Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Book Reviews

The Labrador Pact by Matt Haig

You all know I am writing YA, but I don't only read YA.  So some of these books are just regular adult fiction.  Which is also good!

This book follows the story of Prince, labrador of the Hunter family. He does his best to stay true to The Labrador Pact, a mass covenant made by labradors in England to protect the family unit at all costs.

The narration by Prince is at once moving, humorous and heart-rending. He feels that the dysfunction experienced by the Hunters is due to his failings.

I love to see a writer try something new. Matt Haig effectively explores the theme of suburban familial decay through the eyes of the family dog. I enjoyed it.

Ultimately sad, The Labrador Pact isn't for everyone. It does make me wonder what our animals are really thinking. Warning: sexual situations and strong language.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

As mentioned before, I like post-apocalyptic stories. They are some of my favorite things to read. The Road was no exception. Pulitzer Prize winning author Cormac McCarthy certainly has a way with words. He has a very interesting writing style, not using quotation marks at all and apostrophes rarely. Once I got into the rhythm of the writing, I didn't really notice it anymore. The prose is several times beautiful, but never dense. McCarthy is most often succinct. The Road feels like short fiction. It was a very quick read.

The Road
is the story of a father and son making their way through a desolate landscape burned into ash and rubble. Their existence is the constant scavenge for food in a world that gets colder by the day. Since the cataclysm (not explained specifically), the country has been reduced to lawless dead land, roving gangs and utter hopelessness. The man and the boy exist for each other. The father wants only to keep his child safe. The boy wants for them to continue to be 'the good guys.' Their love for each other is the only thing that sustains them. In most post-apocalyptic tales, there is no happy ending. In The Road, surprisingly, Cormac McCarthy gives us a sort-of-almost happy ending. It seemed happy to me. To some it wouldn't.

This was one post-apocalyptic tale I found to be very enjoyable. The setting is completely believable and totally frightening, full of post-apocalyptic cliches that I LOVE. Bleak. Very very bleak. I wouldn't recommend it for those that don't like depressing books. I'm sure I'll read this many more times. Warning: language, disturbing situations, cannibalism.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Book Review - Plague Year

Plague Year by Jeff Carlson

 This book started off with a bang. I picked it up at the library book sale for fifty cents. And really, how could I resist a book described by a reviewer on the cover as "Part Michael Crichton, part George Romero..."? Immediately I'm thinking, "Romero! Zombies!" I can try a zombie book for fifty cents. Heck, Jon gave me a zombie book for Christmas a couple years ago and I read it on December 26th and it was horrible. Mistakes on every page. Pretty much the literary equivalent of a zombie film.  But it had zombies. Even a baby zombie. And an Iranian sharpshooter. With Plague Year, I expected a little more. And at first, I got it. 

The plague is caused by a fast-acting, highly contagious nano machine called archos that was designed to fight cancer, but just eats living tissue instead. It goes inert above 10,000 feet, so you can imagine the holocaust caused by the nano and the pockets of survivors left on mountain tops. The first sentence: "They ate Jorgensen first." What promised to be a riveting read (I mean, check out that first sentence!) ended up slowing way down. The science was fascinating and seems plausible, bub it doesn't pack nearly the scare punch of Romero's original Night of the Living Dead.  And I should blame that expectation on the blurb by E.E. Knight.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Book Review - Falling Boy

Falling Boy by Alison McGhee

This is a strange tale about odd children. Maybe the children aren't odd, just their experiences. Falling Boy tells the story of Joseph, his co-worker Zap and the little girl who visits their coffee shop, Enzo. Falling Boy explores the effects of familial dysfunction and the worlds children build to escape their troubles.

McGhee has a gift for prose. There were many gems to be found in the text, combinations of words that I wouldn't expect. I found myself at a distance from the characters however, perhaps because the approach felt somewhat clinical. But the reveal about Joseph's accident and the true nature of the animosity between Zap and Enzo is quite fascinating.

Beautifully written, I am sure to read it again, an interesting study of child psychology and McGhee's style appeals to me. I wouldn't recommend it for children, even though the characters are adolescents. It's just a little too adult in its delivery.

Warning: Language.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


So I discovered an amazing anthology that is published every year by Houghton Mifflin. It's called Best American Short Stories. My uncle lent me the 2003 edition for a specific tale, but I read them all and every single one of them was outstanding. So now I pick one up whenever I find them cheap at used book sales. I just finished the 1994 edition. My favorite story was "We Didn't..." I really admire those who are up the unique challenge of crafting a good piece of short fiction. There are some really great writers out there!

Thursday, November 11, 2010


So UVU's university press journal for speculative fiction, Warp&Weave, accepted three of my pieces for their Fall 2010 issue. They are publishing two short stories and a poem. Short stories: Kiko and Relapse. Poem: Ambrosia. I'll just leave you to guess what they're about...


Book Review - Bright Blue Miracle

Bright Blue Miracle by Becca Wilhite

Prelude to a review:

I met Becca at a writers' workshop at UVU called The Book Academy. (My MIL Karen generously arranged and paid for my registration there. *mwah*) Isn't that cool to be able to say, "I met this writer at ___________." ? Well, I think it's cool. I've met lots of writers this year and it's been RAD.

So Becca's workshop class was called Writing With Humor, or something like that, and she talked about how to make your writing funny. She is a very funny gal herself and as endeared as I was by her presentation and her self, I decided to buy one of her books with the ten dollars I had left in my bag that day. The books were on sale, so it was quite inexpensive. Here's how it went down: I saw Becca sitting at her place during the signing and went over to talk to her. We discussed the workshop, my manuscript (which we decided is way dark compared to her stuff) and her books. I told her that I usually don't read books published specifically for the LDS market.

Becca (whispering): Just between you and me, I can write.
Lee: Okay, which book of yours should I buy.
Becca: I think you would like Bright Blue Miracle best. It's not dark, but it has some more serious themes.

So I bought the book, she signed it (personalized autograph thank you) and we talked a little more. Very nice chica. Now onto her book.

Bright Blue Miracle was delightful. I know that doesn't tell you much, but that's the word I would choose to best describe it. I can't say that I expected much, because really, what writer wouldn't tell a prospective buyer of their book "I can write". I was happily wrong in my expectations. The book isn't heavy, by my standards. It's light and joyful and full of the interesting cadence of Wilhite's style. The prose doesn't aspire to be more than it is and I'm okay with that. It felt like I was listening to a precocious teenager simply relate a story in the corner of a coffee shop, which fits the main character well. Bright Blue Miracle deals with blended families, death, emotional connection, grief and relationships. I didn't expect to react emotionally to the story, but I found myself in tears in a few parts and it was a nice surprise.

Bright Blue Miracle is a book appropriate for a child of age enough to understand and explore the complexities and pressures of high school, dating relationships and family problems. Nothing questionable, no language. I recommend it.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Book Reviews

The Road of Bones by Anne Fine

Hmmm.... how to describe this book? An epic tale of growth and loss as Yuri travels from boy to man in a post-revolutionary sort-of-Stalinist kinda-Russia.

This book is dark. Very dark. It explores the results of totalitarianism. How people who are tortured become those who torture. It reminded me very much of George Orwell's 1985. Not futuristic, but frightening. When anything you say can be misconstrued as treasonous, eventually you learn not to say anything at all.

This book is depressing. But I love depressing books.
You know how Dandelion Wine makes you feel warm and hopeful? The Road of Bones is the opposite: it makes you feel cold and dismal. I would say anyone who loves post-apocalyptic or modern-day parable or studies governmental change would like this book. Plus the cover is RAD.

The Ghost's Child
by Sonya Hartnett

This novel is a beautifully written fable that tells the story of Matilda and her true love, Feather. Set in Australia, The Ghost's Child features Hartnett's astounding prose (which is actually even BETTER in Surrender, reviewed below).

Matilda's tale, related one evening to a young visitor in her parlor, is fascinating and lyrical.

It is fantastic to read an original fable and to enjoy so much the absolutely beautiful prose with which it is presented. I highly recommend The Ghost's Child to anyone who loves fairy tales and/or great writing.

Lifted by Wendy Toliver

Poppy is a girl at a new Christian school in Texas. She wants to fit in socially as well as with her demanding mother. Poppy finds herself shop-lifting with her new girlfriends and becomes hooked.

 I like the themes and the idea that a character's bad behavior might make the reader contemplate what makes a person "bad".

The Everafter by Amy Huntley

Madison Stanton wakes up in a void, surrounded by objects she lost in life. It doesn't take long to realize she's dead. Madison uses the objects to revisit scenes in her life. She can inhabit her body during the scene, or watch from a distance. Through a series of flashbacks, the reader builds a picture of Madison's life, and how it led to her death.

The concept is intriguing.

Surrender by Sonya Hartnett

Surrender is the story of Gabriel and his best friend, the feral child Finnigan. There is also a dog named Surrender. This book also contains: abusive parents, a series of fires, descriptions of a small Australian town and a tragic secret. I don't want to say much more than that.

This is a book I in which I would highlight passages and make notes. Sonya Hartnett is a VERY skilled writer. Her prose is magical, full of imagery and astonishing metaphor. An example:

"My ribcage is the hull of a wrecked and submerged ship. My arms, thin as adders, are leaden as dropped boughs. The mattress, my closest friend, has been carved by the knots of my unfleshed bones into a landscape of dents. The soul might rise, but the body pulls down, accepting the inevitable, returning to where it began."

Uh. Wow. The entire book is replete with language just as beautiful and compelling. Read it.

Content warning: violence, disturbing imagery

Teen Fest

So on October 30th, 20 local authors, along with Scott Westerfeld, congregated at the Provo library for a signing, meeting, bibliophile-celebrating extravaganza. All the writers and staff were in steampunk costumes. Many of the kids came in costume as well. I saw one walking loofah and it made me laugh.

I met every writer there and collected autographs on bookmarks, books I brought from home, a get-well card for my lovely sick friend and one in my sketchbook. (Thanks Nathan Hale!)

I got to have a little chat with Sara Zarr. She encouraged me to stay motivated and keep working on my manuscript. (She read the first two chapters at WIFYR.) Seeing her and talking with her made me smile. Ann Dee Ellis gave me a hug and asked me how everything was going. Carol Lynch Williams did the same. (I love those girls!) It's very happy-making to talk with writers I admire. It made me want to read Once Was Lost, This Is What I Did: and Glimpse again. Nathan Hale looked through my sketchbook and said it looked good. "Keep developing the art and the writing and you'll be able to do something with both," he told me. I got to meet Ally Condie finally. She's very nice and seems pretty chill.

Thank you for the encouragement everyone. It's so wonderful to have so many friends who share my interest in writing and reading!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Book Bacchanalia

So on October 14th, The Salt Lake City Public Library had a book sale for all the books they're retiring from their shelves. Hardbacks were $1.00, paperbacks were $0.50. That's right. One dollar and fifty cents. Lish, Ty and I went to the library around one. Or was it eleven. I don't really remember. I know that it started at 7am, but we didn't go that early.

It was a room in the basement, packed with sliding piles of books grouped into genres not in alphabetical order and crowds of bibliophiles in a barely controlled frenzy. As I moved immediately to the YA section, I was struck by the proximity of the people around me. They were CLOSE. Very close. The experience was quite claustrophobic. But the lure of inexpensive books was too much to resist. I could smell people. I usually can't, but in this room I could. That's how close they were.

Ty ended up chilling in a corner, guarding our mountain of books. We picked up things we thought the other would like, culled the unwanteds from the mountain and ended up with about one hundred books altogether.

I spent forty dollars. Lish spent thirty-two. We were giddy.

Lish's books. Can you feel the joy?

Me and my new books. I tell people it's a sickness. I don't care for a cure though... :)