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was sold to gypsies as a small child for half a tank of gas and a kitten. She was quickly, if not easily, retrieved by her mother after the kitten was revealed to be an Eldrich horror looking for a ride into the nearest metropolitan area to begin wreaking havoc. It's been a bone of contention between Maria and her family ever since, whether the Horror-kitten would've been more or less trouble than she grew up to be.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Book Review: The Color of Magic/The Light Fantastic

From Goodreads:

The Color of Magic - On a world supported on the back of a giant turtle (sex unknown), a gleeful, explosive, wickedly eccentric expedition sets out. There's an avaricious but inept wizard, a naive tourist whose luggage moves on hundreds of dear little legs, dragons who only exist if you believe in them, and of course THE EDGE of the planet...

The Light Fantastic - In The Light Fantastic only one individual can save the world from a disastrous collision. Unfortunately, the hero happens to be the singularly inept wizard Rincewind, who was last seen falling off the edge of the world...

I'm pairing these novels together in one review - the first two books in Terry Pratchett's much acclaimed Discworld series - because I consider them two parts of a whole. This is probably because  I saw the movie, The Color of Magic, first. As the movie combines The Color of Magic and The Light Fantastic, they are inextricably linked in my mind.

The main characters of both books are Rincewind and Twoflower. Rincewind is an incompetent wizard in his thirties who was kicked out of The Unseen University in Ankh Morpork - school to all wizards - after it became clear he had no talent for learning spells. Rincewind has his own opinions on why spells refuse to stay in his mind, all of which stem from an incident in his youth that left one of the eight great spells that created the Discworld lodged in his brain. Rincewind is pessimistic in the extreme, a die-hard fatalist, and not so happy about existing in a world run by magic.

Twoflower is the Discworld's first tourist, an insurance agent from the Counterweight Continent who decided to save his pennies and see the world, starting with the twin cities of Ankh-Morpork. He's a bit of a dreamer, a cock-eyed optimist,  and utterly naive about the ruthless culture of his chosen vacation spot. He's also staggering wealthy by the standards of Ankh-Morpork's residents.

By a hilarious twist of fate, these two diametrically opposed personalities are paired together as Rincewind is appointed Twoflower's guide to the Discworld on penalty of certain death. Thus begins a long, rollicking adventure to the end of the world and back again, accompanied by a very unusual and bad tempered piece of luggage.

The Good:

The writing is sharp, acerbic, and clever; everything I've come to love and expect from contemporary British authors. What I love about Pratchett's writing in these books is the balance of satire and sincerity. While obviously poking fun at high fantasy and science fiction tropes - like barbarian heroes, dimensional travelers, and pesky gods,  - the Discworld is completely sincere about its' absurdity.

The characters were completely and unmistakably themselves, from the main players to the supporting cast. There is never at any point a risk of confusing one character for another. While Rincewind and Twoflower nearly succumbed to the more superficial aspects of their design, even they grew reliably and realistically. By the end of The Light Fantastic they were still themselves, but slightly improved versions of themselves.

I got these books for free while visiting Cassandra Yorgey as she was clearing out her library. Free book = happy Maria.

The Bad:

This is more a complaint about my copy and an unfortunate commentary on the state of my eyesight, but I had a hard time reading it at points. I think this had much more to do with the close print of the edition I was reading and the fact that I was only wearing my glasses half the time than anything related to the quality of the writing.

The Rest:

I can't think of anything else I've ever read that is quite like the Discworld. While I enjoy that immensely as a reader, as a reviewer it makes it hard for me to draw comparisons for other readers. The only other piece of fiction that's the same in tone is another product of the UK, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, which ironically, he wrote a sequel for.

One of the most frequent complaints I noted on review sites like Goodreads and Amazon was that perspective readers were wary of what was meant when fans called it 'satire' and 'comedy,' citing that people all had their own standards for funny. I think most people who like fantasy or science fiction would enjoy this humor. More than anything else, these books seem to make fun of themselves and the characters trapped within their pages.

Final Thoughts:

These books are funny, well thought out and plotted, and I think they appeal to a larger audience than just fans of fantasy. While the Discworld books aren't marketed as YA, I think they're safe for that demographic; there was nothing in these two books that was any worse than what I used to read in my brother's comics.

I have almost the entire series thanks to Cassandra and I enjoyed these two books more than enough to want to read their sequels. Expect more Discworld reviews in the future.

My Rating: 4.5/5 Mushrooms

Searching the skies for giant sea turtles,

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Book Review: Five Women Wearing the Same Dress

I used to have this cover. And then I read it so much, the cover fell off.

As my Twitter followers are well aware, this play consumed much of my time from March to mid June - which is in no small way partly responsible for this blogs ongoing silence. Five Women Wearing the Same Dress is a play written by Alan Ball, the same writer behind the Kevin Spacey movie, American Beauty, and the HBO sensation, True Blood.

From Goodreads:

During an ostentatious wedding reception at a Knoxville, Tennessee, estate, five reluctant, identically clad bridesmaids hide out in an upstairs bedroom, each with her own reason to avoid the proceedings below. They are Frances, a painfully sweet but sheltered fundamentalist; Mindy, the cheerful, wise-cracking lesbian sister of the groom; Georgeanne, whose heartbreak over her own failed marriage triggers outrageous behavior; Meredith, the bride's younger sister whose precocious rebelliousness masks a dark secret; and Trisha, a jaded beauty whose die-hard cynicism about men is called into question when she meets Tripp, a charming bad-boy usher to whom there is more than meets the eye. As the afternoon wears on, these five very different women joyously discover a common bond in this wickedly funny, irreverent and touching celebration of the women's spirit.

Or, as I sold it to friends and family, five bridesmaids who detest the bride barricade themselves in her old room with half the open bar, and drunkenly bare their souls, spirituality, and sexual exploits over the course of two acts.

We. Look. Fabulous.

The Good:

Alan Ball has a gift for writing dark humor. His dialogue is sharp and cutting; it jumps off the page. Having spent some years living in the rural south, I was able to rapidly identify the characters he had created, and understood immediately where they were coming from in their angers and neurosis. Most of the time, the hard, descriptive language of the characters showed you precisely how hurt these women were and why.

The Bad:

What worked for the play also held it back.

The dark humor was well done, but when the play suddenly shifted into a very unfunny place, there was some confusion on how to feel. The dialogue is sharp, but also frequently inane and unintelligible. Ball uses localized slang which most of the actresses I worked with were unable to follow, and thus lost the thread of the conversation. The characters are easily recognizable in no small part because they are stereotypes of women; frames for characters without enough writing to make them real or show any visible evolution. Given time to read and understand the work, it's easy to evaluate and understand all these women and their unspoken and unexplored tribulations - the frames have the potential to make some fascinating characters. But ultimately, it is left to the viewer/reader to fill in those gaps themselves, and the approximately two hour run time is just not enough to pay attention to the plot and catch all the subtext.

The Rest:

Ball uses his writing as a soap box for his personal politics and philosophies. He's not the first writer to do this and he certainly won't be the last. But not everyone likes soap boxes, and he certainly could have handled them better here.

Even Ball seemed standoffish about some of the topics he introduces. There are discussions and arguments between characters where Ball makes his personal opinions known, but has no idea how to resolve them in the context of his own world. This is probably most notable with the character of Frances, a judgmental but well-intentioned evangelist, whose moral scruples with the other women are driven into passionately and poignantly, but are dropped like a hot potato and never picked up again or resolved to anyone's satisfaction.

Final Thoughts:

Alan Ball does not write about comfortable worlds, as viewers of his other works are probably well aware. He drags you into dark, secretive, restless, and painful lives of people whose realities are not what they'd hoped for. This type of story is not for everyone; there are readers and viewers who will shy away from this play simply because of the subject matter and how it's handled.

But my main contention with this play is the lack of resolution for anything. There is a cornucopia of issues Ball brings up only to abandon; even the fate of the characters is left on a wire. Maybe things will change and they'll grow...but maybe they won't and everyone will continue on exactly the same. While I can appreciate the sentiment behind ending on that note, it just didn't work.

Overall, it's a decent play and funny one. It just, much like its characters, has some problems and no one to talk to.

My Rating: 3/5 Mushrooms

Cha Cha Cheesewiz!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Book Review: Shut Out

TAC book 2
From Amazon:

Most high school sports teams have rivalries with other schools. At Hamilton High, it's a civil war: the football team versus the soccer team. And for her part,Lissa is sick of it. Her quarterback boyfriend, Randy, is always ditching her to go pick a fight with the soccer team or to prank their locker room. And on three separate occasions Randy's car has been egged while he and Lissa were inside, making out. She is done competing with a bunch of sweaty boys for her own boyfriend's attention.

Lissa decides to end the rivalry once and for all: She and the other players' girlfriends go on a hookup strike. The boys won't get any action from them until the football and soccer teams make peace. What they don't count on is a new sort of rivalry: an impossible girls-against-boys showdown that hinges on who will cave to their libidos first. And Lissa never sees her own sexual tension with the leader of the boys, Cash Sterling, coming.

Tastes Like: Year-old Halloween candy.

Smells Like: Cotton candy body spray and unwashed socks.

Looks Like: Laura Prepon getting ready to kick Topher Graces ass over who gets to be on top.

Analysis: I think Kody Keplinger is a talented young wordsmith. I think there's a lot of reason to be excited for her and her work as both she and it grow. But I also think there's a lack of maturity in her characterizations and ability to narrate fully dimensional characters.

Two chapters in, I hated the characters. I found them to be shallow and flat, and while comedic writing does seem to allow for less intensive development of personalities - the abuse of stereotypes seems to be de rigueur for comedy - I thought it was a very bad way to introduce your characters. Personally, I need more than an unusual or impressive set up alone to get involved in a story*; I don't necessarily need to like a character, but I should feel curious about them and be interested about how their lives are changed. And the first couple chapters of Shut Out did not sell it to me successfully.

I did not finish this book and probably won't pick it up again - in a world with so many wonderful books, why waste time on the ones you know you aren't interested in? However, I will still check out Keplinger's future books. I think she's a talented young writer and I want to see how that skill develops with time and experience.

My Rating: No mushrooms, since I didn't read the whole book.

Release Date: September 5, 2011

Now children, play nice or Nanny will have to pull out the plasma cannon,
- Maria

*And at 22, a battle between the sexes over a high school sports team rivalry runs the risk of being more irritating than amusing.

Book Review: After Obsession

The first of the TAC11 books.
From Goodreads:
Aimee and Alan have secrets. Both teens have unusual pasts and abilities they prefer to keep hidden. But when they meet each other, in a cold Maine town, they can't stop their secrets from spilling out. Strange things have been happening lately, and they both feel that something-or someone- is haunting them. They're wrong. Despite their unusual history and powers, it's neither Aimee nor Alan who is truly haunted. It's Alan's cousin Courtney who, in a desperate plea to find her missing father, has invited a demon into her life-and into her body. Only together can Aimee and Alan exorcise the ghost. And they have to move quickly, before it devours not just Courtney but everything around her.

The Good:

After Obsession is a 1st-person, present-tense point of view novel with alternating narrators.  There is nothing in that sentence that would indicate how much I would come to love this book by the end.

Steven Wedel and Carrie Jones handle what could have been a very cliche plot beautifully. A new student and the local weirdo join forces to save the town. But Alan, a normally confident albeit offbeat young athlete, is treading carefully in a new and uncomfortable situation with all the trepidation and insecurity that comes with being a teenager. Aimee balances on a precarious ledge, being the daughter of a 'crazy' mother and having more than a few secrets she has no one to share with. The voicing on the part of both writers is familiar enough to draw readers in, while their situations are unusual enough to keep readers engaged to the end.

The writing on the part of both authors manages to be youthful without feeling shallow or overbearing, and with each author taking on a narrator for themselves, Aimee and Alan's internal dialogs are subtly, but obviously, different. While Carrie Jones had a few moments of what I call "Teen-Speak" - trying a little too hard to sound like a teenager - they were few and far between, and thankfully didn't take me out of the story.

For a small book, there's a wide cast of characters, and given the length, I thought they were reasonably well explored. The parents and teachers especially were enjoyable, as they interacted with Aimee and Alan. I do wish the teachers had had more to do. I feel like the adults needed their own prequel of sorts to explain some of their idiosyncrasies.

Most of all, I loved how they handled the horror. It creeps up on the reader and grows magnificently. Honestly, I could not put this book down once I started reading.

The Bad:

I really don't have much of anything bad to say about this. There are a few things I wish had been done a little differently(longer) or had been featured more prominently(the teachers are cool; more please), but there was nothing that negatively impacted my enjoyment of this book.

Except maybe the cover.

Tell me that she doesn't have man-hands. And the torso looks out of proportion with the head and arms. Does anyone else see this? Anyone? I love the ambiance of the cover. I think it suits the tone of the book perfectly, but - man-hands.

The Rest:

While at times the plot was predictable, I still felt uneasy and fearful at all the right places. I liked and sympathized with the characters. While I was reading, I was totally and utterly absorbed. This book is short, sweet, and scary.

And for those readers who are wary of paranormal romances in this age of vampire and fallen angel lovers, fear not; After Obsession is 100% free of mythical paramours. A welcome relief, I know.

Final Thoughts:

As a fan of YA and a life-long lover of the paranormal, I loved this book. It had that wonderful vibe of good old horror movies like The Exorcist and The Haunting of Hill House; anything that can push my Shirley Jackson button gets an automatic A. I would strongly recommend this book to fans of the paranormal and ghost stories, as well as to fans of Stephen King who want that scare without the grit, gore, and pulp, or to horror aficionados working their way up to the Fright Master.

Also, I really really want a sequel. Please? Pretty please?

My Rating: 5/5  Mushrooms

Release Date: September 13, 2011

Don't Stop Creepin'
- Maria

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Teen Author Carnival 2011: Round 1

Last month, I attended the 3rd annual Teen Author Carnival. Needless to say, it was pretty cool; I came home with all this swag!

Note the ketchup stains. Further evidence that I can't have nice things.
TAC - as it's referred to online -is run by Devyn Burton, Korianne Wey, and Mitali Dave, as part of my internet alma mater, the Five Awesome YA Fans. I attended last years' event as well and completely dropped the ball as to blogging about it. Never again, I say!

I went with other, better bloggers Cassandra Yorgey and Emma Volee, and other FAYAF friends Genevieve Thursday and Michael. Much fun was had as Cassandra got us lost, Emma got us back on track, Genevieve packed swag bags forever, and Michael was forcibly dragged to panels by Cassandra and I. Authors were entertaining and friendly, seating was scare, and I wore a silly hat, asked questions, and garnered much questionable attention (I wear a fez, now. Fezes are cool.). I also may have developed an unhealthy love of the word 'appendage' thanks to Carrie Jones.

Over the rest of the summer, while I take a well deserved break from school to focus on Nevermore, I'm going to resume reviewing things, many of which will be books from TAC. However, since I'm still a busy girl with a lackadaisical work ethic, I'm not going to be able to get through many of these. In order to keep the blog busy(ish), some of these reviews are going to be...unorthodox. So keep an eye out and expect silliness.

For now, though, here's:

A Quick Overview

The Authors
  1. Carol Estby Dagg - The Year We Were Famous
  2. Nova Ren Suma - Imaginary Girls
  3. Carrie Jones - Need, After Obsession, Dear Bully
  4. Scott Tracey - Witch Eyes
  5. David Levithan - Every You, Every Me
  6. Melissa Walker - Small Town Sinners
  7. Michelle Hodkin - The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer
  8. Elizabeth Scott - Between Here and Forever & As I Wake
  9. Michelle Zink - Circle of Fire
  10. Michael Northrop - Trapped
  11. Leah Clifford - A Touch Mortal
  12. Nick James - Skyship Academy
  13. Amy Fellner Dominy -OyMG
  14. Kirsten Hubbard - Like Mandarin
  15. Malinda Lo - Huntress, Ash
  16. Bettina Restrepo - Illegal
  17. Caridad Ferrer - When the Stars Go Blue
  18. Kody Keplinger - Shut Out
  19. Torrey Maldonado - Secret Saturdays
  20. Hannah Moskowitz - Invincible Summer, Zombie Tag
  21. E Archer - Geek Fantasy Novel
  22. Gayle Forman - Where She Went
  23. Courtney Allison Moulton - Angelfire
  24. Susane Colasanti - So Much Closer, Something Like Fate
  25. Andrea Cremer - Wolfsbane, Nightshade 

This year, there were four panels instead of the rotating three from last year. I think I prefer the rotating schedule, that way attendees can see all the panels instead of having to choose. Having to choose, I went to Otherworldly Adventures and Getting It Right. I'm happy with my choices, I must confess.

Kick Ass Females in YA: And Why It's A Big Deal To Have Them
Moderator: Lisa Desrochers
1.      Malinda Lo
2.      Andrea Cremer
3.      Michelle Zink
4.      Courtney Allison Moulton
5.      Carole Estby Dagg
6.      Elizabeth Scott  
7.      Michelle Hodkin 
8.  Kirsten Hubbard

Otherworldly Adventures: With a Bit of the Real World Thrown In
Moderators: Chelsea Swiggett & Karsten Knight
1.      E. Archer
2.      Carrie Jones
3.      Nova Ren Suma
4.      Michael Northrop
5.      Scott Tracey
6.      Leah Clifford

Teenage Angst: Getting It Right - The Emotions, The Voice, The Drama
Moderator: Ellen Hopkins
1.      David Levithan
2.      Susane Colasanti
3.      Melissa Walker
4.      Kody Keplinger
5.      Hannah Moskowitz
6.      Gayle Forman
7.      Torrey Maldonado
8.      Caridad Ferrer

Debut Author Showcase: The Journey to Publication
Moderator: Lenore Applehans
1.      Carole Estby Dagg
2.      Amy Fellner Dominy
3.      Kirsten Hubbard
4.      Bettina Restrepo
5.      Michelle Hodkins
 6.      Nick James 
7. Scott Tracey