Showing posts with label boy books. Show all posts
Showing posts with label boy books. Show all posts

On Covers and Curse Workers

I just finished reading RED GLOVE, the second book in Holly Black's Curse Workers trilogy.

And GAH! This trilogy!

Understand: I LOVE the stories. Love the characters, love the cons (oh my GOSH, the cons), love the powers, love the world. I think I liked WHITE CAT better than this one (the big con felt . . . connier in the first book), but RED GLOVE was still very good.

When I read WHITE CAT, my only problems with it were a minor plot issue and the cover.

Guess what my problems are now.

So, the minor plot issue is really minor. More of a world-building nitpick than anything: If everyone wears gloves all the time -- and the murderer was wearing gloves when she was caught on camera -- why would Cassel need to wipe prints off the gun? (And do police even use fingerprinting if everyone wears gloves all the time?).

But the cover. It's better this time -- it's not whitewashed, for example. Actually, it's a pretty cool design, but . . . I dunno. See, I think boys would love this book. Crime bosses, con artists, murders, brothers. What's not to love? But the cover's PINK, man. Even I was embarrassed to read it in public.

(Okay, so I'm very easily embarrassed. But still, it'd be nice if the cover could be more...neutral.)

Books I Read: The Maze Runner by James Dashner

Title: The Maze Runner
Author: James Dashner
Genre: YA Science Fiction/Dystopian
Published: 2009
My Content Rating: PG-13 for violence
Cliffhanger Ending: YES

Thomas wakes up in a dark elevator with no memories of who he is or what he's doing there. He emerges in the middle of a giant maze, surrounded by boys who have likewise been stripped of his memories. They've spent the last two years trying to escape, while struggling against the creatures that live in the maze. But Thomas is different. Things feel familiar to him, though he doesn't know why. He has to figure it out fast, though, because his arrival -- and the surprise arrival of the first girl the next day -- is about to change everything.

I completely fell in love with the world-building of this book. I mean, shoot, a giant maze with moving walls? What's not to love! And then when you start catching pieces of the mystery behind it all: HOOKED.

The characters made me happy too. They were smart (mostly; see below), brave, and stubborn (in a good way). I wouldn't mind being stuck in a maze with most of these guys.

The one thing that bothered me through most of the book was how slow they were to pick up on things. I didn't like that they seemed to be withholding information from each other, and I didn't like that it sometimes took Thomas a few tries before he remembered/believed something somebody did tell him.

The fact that I'm telling you about the book, however, should tell you just how much more I love the secrets and the world-building. I should be mad, but I'm not (though I do hope they're quicker to pick things up in the sequel), and I'm pretty sure I have to finish this series.

Books I Read: The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

Title: The Knife of Never Letting Go
Author: Patrick Ness
Genre: YA Science Fiction/Dystopian
Published: 2008
My Content Rating: R for violence and effing language (except he doesn't say effing)

Todd has grown up his whole life being able to hear everyone else's thoughts, and having everyone else hear his. A germ that hit before Todd was born killed all the women, and the men who survived couldn't keep their thoughts to themselves. But it turns out you can keep secrets even if you know everyone's thoughts, and the men of Todd's town have been keeping a lot of secrets. Todd's first hint of this is when he finds a spot of complete, impossible silence in a world filled with Noise.

If you feel like there's a lot I'm not telling you in that summary, then you understand the one thing I didn't like about this book. To me, the withholding of information felt artificial at times, and was put off for so long that I'd basically guessed all the answers already.

But don't take that the wrong way, because I LOVED this book. The world, the narrator's voice, the frigging dog . . . it was all pretty amazing. And it says a lot that, even though I felt almost cheated by the secrets, I didn't care. I was willing to let the story drag me along anywhere it wanted.

Fair warning though: the story is dark and leaves it wide open for the next book (gah, I hate book-ending cliffhangers). Still a good story, though, if this sounds like your thing.

Books I Read: The Alloy of Law

Title: The Alloy of Law
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Genre: Steampunk Fantasy
Published: 2011
Content Rating: R for action violence

Three hundred years after the events of the Mistborn trilogy, the world has been reborn and is in the midst of an industrial revolution, with trains and guns, skyscrapers and electricity -- and outlaws and the lawmen who bring them to justice.

Wax Ladrian is one such lawman, retired after his last job ended in the death of the girl he loved. He's just getting used to the noble life he had abandoned long ago, when his fiancee is kidnapped by a notorious band of criminals, led by a man whose Allomantic powers render him nigh immortal. As Wax gets more involved in the investigation, he learns that the city can be even more dangerous than the outskirts he used to protect.

You may recall I loved the original trilogy, and I love this. It's not as epic; Sanderson admits that he wrote it for fun, basically, and it totally is. It's a classic Western story wrapped up in a world where the kind of metal you wear (or eat) determines whether you launch yourself into the air, heal yourself, or stop time.

I have to admit the occasional character or plot event felt too . . . straightforward to me. But I love the mystery and detective work. I love the way Allomancy (and Feruchemy, which we didn't see as much of in the trilogy) interact with this new industrialized world. And I LOVED the banter between Wax and his deputy Wayne (who reminded me an awful lot of a certain pilot of a Firefly-class vessel).

Wax and Wayne. Heh, I just got that.

Books I Read: White Cat

Title: White Cat
Author: Holly Black
Genre: YA Urban Fantasy
Published: 2010
My Content Rating: PG-13 for violence and sexy situations

Cassel comes from a family of curse workers--people with the power to change your emotions, your memories, your luck, with a mere touch. Curse work is illegal, of course, so they're criminals. Except for Cassel: he hasn't got the touch. He discovers his brothers are keeping secrets from him and suspects he's part of a huge con. He has to unravel his past and his memories to outcon the conmen.

I loved this (and thank you, dear readers, for recommending it). I loved the powers, LOVED the cons, and thought the characters were great. If any of that sounds even remotely interesting to you, read this book.

There were only two things that kept the book from being perfect for me. The first was a possible-but-minor plot hole near the end. (If you've read it: when did Barron have time to read his notebooks?)

The second was the cover. It's a very cool cover, but when I read descriptive hints like this, I had to take a second look:
"Your grandfather told me that someone in your family was descended from a runaway slave," she says.... People are always coming up to me on trains and talking to me in different languages, like it's obvious I'll understand them.
Maybe it's just me, but the guy in this cover doesn't look ambiguous in his racial ancestry at all. He looks white--Italian, maybe--but not like somebody who obviously speaks a foreign language. It didn't ruin the book for me, but it surprised me that someone thought this guy fit the descriptions.

If you've read it, what do you think? About the story, I mean, though we can talk cover in the comments too.

Books I Read: Elantris

Title: Elantris
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Genre: Fantasy
Published: 2006
Content Rating: R for action violence

It used to be that men and women were transformed, seemingly randomly, into nigh-immortal, magical beings. When this happened, they and their families moved to Elantris, the city of the gods. Ten years ago, the magic died. Elantrians lost their power and beauty, becoming like the living dead--unable to heal, enduring pain and hunger so severe that most succumbed to insanity.

When Raoden, beloved prince of the kingdom, becomes one of the fallen Elantrians, his father covers it up, telling the kingdom he has died. Sarene, his bride from another land, arrives in her new home a widow. Meanwhile Hrathen, high priest of the enemy's religion, intends to convert the entire kingdom, because if he doesn't, his god will annihilate them all.

The book alternates between the viewpoints of the three main characters. I admit, I wasn't always interested in all three points of view (most of the time I found Raoden's the most interesting, though the political and religious tension were usually on Sarene and Hrathen's side). Also the novel felt like it started slow to me, but then it's epic fantasy. I understand Sanderson has a world he needs to reveal (and it wasn't infodump-slow, just slower than I wanted).

But by the end, I loved it. One of my favorite things about Sanderson (having read two of his worlds now) is how he reveals the complexities of his world through the story. Not by hiding things from the reader, but by revealing secrets as the characters figure them out. In both Elantris and Mistborn, the characters initially believe the world works a certain way. As they try to save their world, however, they discover there is much to it than they thought possible.

It's that aspect of Sanderson's fantasy that is starting to make him my new Orson Scott Card (no disrespect to Card--Ender's Game is still my favorite novel of all time). If you like fantasy, and you've already read the Mistborn trilogy, try this one out. You might like it.

Books I Read: Leviathan

Title: Leviathan
Author: Scott Westerfeld
Genre: YA steampunk
Published: 2009
Content Rating: PG for action and mild violence

It's around the start of World War One, except Archduke Ferdinand (whose murder started the war) has a son, Alek, who could inherit Austria should the emperor die. He goes into exile with only a walking warmachine and a small band of men to help him. On the other side is Deryn, a girl from Britain who wants to join the air corps so badly she disguises herself as a boy.

These two find themselves stuck in the middle of the biggest war the world's ever seen, between Clankers and Darwinists.

Oh, you don't know what those are? Dude, they're the best part of this novel. Clankers (Austria, Germany, and some other Central Powers) have advanced machine technology beyond what we have today, to the point where they sport multi-legged land dreadnoughts and Stormwalkers instead of silly tanks. The Darwinists, on the other hand, (Britain, France, and other Allied Powers) have taken the teachings of Charles Darwin to a whole new level and are fabricating animals to serve them in a variety of ways. Among them: talking message lizards, hydrogen-breathing jellyfish, and an enormous living airship.

If you're not excited yet, maybe this isn't the book for you, but I loved it. It's illustrated too, bringing to life all the best, most interesting aspects of the world. And on top of everything, there's action and adventure every other page. This is a totally fun book. My only complaint is I wanted more closure at the end, but that won't stop me from getting the next book when I get a chance.

Love Stories, the Maturation of the Male Writer

STAGE 1: Ignorance
"There are girls in Lord of the Rings?"

At first, the subject is aware of love stories in general, but has either never read any or is unaware that he has. Attempts at bringing romance to the subject's attention may result in discomfort, interrupted thought patterns, or an irrational desire to play Splinter Cell. 

STAGE 2: Avoidance
They were close enough to feel the warmth of-- "BO-RING." *flip* *flip* *flip*

In the second stage, the subject exhibits an acute awareness and dislike of romance. He will sometimes go out of his way to learn about popular series with romantic storylines just so he can deride them. Studies show a strong correlation between writers in this stage and bachelors.

STAGE 3: Tolerance
"I like the rest of this story. I guess I can put up with a kissing scene or two."

Often triggered by a well-written adventure/romance novel, or a series of real-life break ups, writers in the third stage begin to actually read romantic subplots, if not enjoy them. This is provided, of course, that the main plot involves terrorists, aliens, pirates, serial killers, or some other form of mortal terror.

STAGE 4: Curiosity
"Women read a lot, and they seem to like this stuff. I bet if I can fake it, they'll read my stuff too."

Writers begin to see romance as a means to "trick" women into reading their book. They pay more attention to love stories, trying to see "how it's done." It's important at this stage that they learn from fiction, because even after thousands of years of studying women in real life, men still have no clue what they want.

STAGE 5: Secret Acceptance
In the last stage, the subject comes to terms with the fact that romance is a part of life, and therefore a part of fiction. Although certain cultural pressures still apply.

In public: "I don't care who she ends up with. I just want to see her blow stuff up!"
At home: "Why can't she see how much Gale cares for her?" *tissue*

Books I Read: The Graveyard Book

Title: The Graveyard Book
Author: Neil Gaiman
Genre: YA Horror/Fantasy
Published: 2008
Content Rating: PG for scary situations

An orphan grows up in a graveyard, raised by ghosts, but is the man who killed his family still after him? (This, by the way, is what we call a high concept novel).

I love Neil Gaiman. Love, love, love, love. He's got this gift of turning the mundane into something magical, while simultaneously making the fantastic seem perfectly reasonable. So even when the climax felt slightly predictable -- essentially each element of the boy's life came into play to help him win -- it was so much fun I didn't care. (Besides which, the resolution mattered more to me than the climax. It's not like I ever thought Bod would lose.)

I'd recommend this to pretty much everyone. I'm even going to read it to my kids, but... probably not until they can handle scary better. I'm still having trouble telling the Passover story in a "this is scary but it's okay" kind of way.

Books I Read: Mockingjay

Title: Mockingjay
Author: Suzanne Collins
Genre: YA Science Fiction
Published: 2010
Content Rating: R for violence

Thanks to Susan Kaye Quinn, I got to read this book in the same year it was published -- the same month, even, which never happens. (Even better, I got to read it with my wife, who got hooked and caught up in less than a week).

I figure it's kinda pointless to tell you what this book is about, yes? Either you've read the first two, and you know. Or you haven't, and the last thing you want is a summary that could potentially spoil the earlier novels. I also don't want to spoil it, so I'll just tell you how I felt.

Overall, I liked it as much as I did Catching Fire. Everything fit, and there was plenty of tension to go around (especially towards the end). There were only a few times where I could see the author's hand nudging the plot in a specific direction. In the end, there were things I wished had happened, but it felt right.

I'll talk more in the comments, but with spoilers. So don't go there if that's not what you want.

Marketing Books for Boys

Okay, sorry for that detour on Monday. That was a lot of videos to dump on you at once, but oh my gosh they're fun to watch. Next time you're bored, that's 25 minutes of free entertainment right there.

So, last Friday we talked about how boys actually do read OMIGOSHWHOKNEW?! Well you guys knew, for starters. The general (and thumbs-up scientific!) consensus seems to be that boys read, they just don't read a lot of YA. Probably, says the consensus, because there's not a lot of YA for them to read.

The thing is, guys like me -- most boys, too, I think -- will read a lot more than we're given credit for. I'm not going to go all the way and speak for all guys everywhere, but these are some of the things said about boy readers, along with how true (or untrue) I think they are.

Boys won't read books with romance. Not strictly true. I think a lot of boys will tolerate romance (that's kinda how we see it, sorry) so long as it's not the point. Look at the Harry Potter and Ender's Shadow series, the Mistborn trilogy, Graceling, or Hunger Games. All of these have romance -- Hunger Games even makes it an essential part of the conflict -- but because it's not the primary tension of the books, boys can read past it and still enjoy the ride.

Boys won't read books written by girls. Not true! Honestly when I was a boy I didn't even look at the author's name (unless I had to for a book report). You think the droves of boys who read Harry Potter didn't know "J. K." was a girl? So long as it was well-written and had characters I could identify with, I didn't really care where it came from.

Boys won't read books with girls on the cover. Okay yeah, pretty much. I mean, I'll read these now, but I wasn't so secure as a teen. Even as an adult, sticking a girl prominently on the cover -- without any guns or dragons or spaceships or anything -- tells me the folks who made the book don't really want me reading it anyway.

Boys won't read books with girly titles. True, but kind of subjective as to what constitutes a girly title. Red flag words include: girl, kiss, love, lips, pretty, diary, sweet, and affair. The thing is other guys are going to ask us what we're reading, and we'd much rather say Vampire Slayer than Pretty Lips Love Affair.

Boys won't read books with girl protagonists. Not true. Sure we want boy characters we can identify with, but we'll read pretty much anything if there's a chance someone gets stabbed, shot, or explodes.

Okay, so I did slip into talking about 'we' there, but in truth this is just my opinion. What's yours?

Boys Read! Stop Saying They Don't!

Every so often you get an article like "10 Tips to Get Boys to Read" or "Books Boys Will Actually Like". Or else you get someone super excited because, "Oh my gosh, it's a miracle. My son actually likes to read!"

Okay, listen. I'm all for encouraging anyone to read, especially kids. But this whole "boys don't read" thing has to stop. (A) It's not true and (B) it seems to be leading the publishing industry to the more sinister "boys don't read, so we better stop publishing books for them or else we'll lose money."

Start with me: I'm a boy, and I read. I always have. And I know other boys who read. My dad reads, my best friend MattyDub reads, my friend Cory reads, Bear, Emmet, Jamie (he reads like six books a week), Whytey, Mike, Dave...

Those are men, Adam. I thought we were talking about boys.

Fine. Forget the fact that most of those guys have been reading since they were boys. I've also got three teenage boys who come over every week to borrow every book I've got: Pratchett, Card, Tolkien, Rowling, Collins, Gaiman, Crichton, *DEEP BREATH* Asimov, Sanderson, Cashore, Brennan... (The only book I couldn't get them to borrow was Silver Phoenix, I suspect because of the girl on the cover -- sorry, Cindy, I tried).

Anecdotal evidence not good enough for you? All right. I searched for actual statistics on boys not reading and found a single article. I guess in 2002, for overall book reading (whatever that means), young men were at 43%.

That's not a lot, Adam.

I know, hang on. It also put girls at 59%. Fewer boys than girls, but not much. It's still A LOT OF BOYS READING. In a classroom of 30 kids, it means half of them read. Of those readers, 9 are girls and 6 are boys. Certainly enough that books should be published for them, right?

Well, no, apparently. The biggest push still seems to go to books with lips on the cover, "Kiss" in the title, or protagonists with pink, sparkly tasers (for the record, I'm very excited about Kiersten's book that comes out in 4 days, but you have to admit we boys are not the target audience).

There are exceptions, sure. But hearing from people in the industry, it sounds as though they're AFRAID to market books to boys. Jason Pinter suggests this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Publishers believe boys don't read, so they target their book at the biggest market (girls). Boys find only romance stories (with girls or unrealistically hot boys on the cover) and head for the comics section or out the door. Publishers say, "See? They didn't touch [obscure boy-oriented title stocked between "Girl's Rock" and "My Secret Desire" (totally made-up titles)]. They must not like to read at all!"

And the cycle continues.

Jason also says that if the industry pushes boy books, boys will come to read them, even if it's slow at first. I agree. But for now can we stop being surprised when we see boys reading? Can we just believe that a lot of boys DO read, even if it's a whole 15% fewer than the girls?

Cuz the statistic that really worries me is that half of the kids in that study DON'T read. Let's work on them instead, aye?

Boy Books on Ink Spells

From Blue Like Jazz, by Donald Miller:
I understand you can learn a great deal about girldom by reading Pride and Prejudice, and I own a copy, but I have never read it. I tried. It was given to me by a girl with a little note inside that read: What is in this book is the heart of a woman.

I am sure the heart of a woman is pure and lovely, but the first chapter of said heart is hopelessly boring. Nobody dies at all.

I talk about boy books over at Susan Quinn's place. Check it out.

Books I Read: Mistborn Trilogy

Title: Mistborn Trilogy (three books)
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Genre: Fantasy
Published: 2006-08
Content Rating: R for action violence

Vin is a young street urchin who discovers she is an Allomancer, a trait which allows her to burn ingested metals giving her amazing powers. More than that, she is Mistborn, a rare breed of Allomancer who can burn all of the eight basic metals. In Mistborn, she joins a thieving crew to do the impossible: to overthrow the immortal tyrant known as the Lord Ruler.

The Well of Ascension continues with the events that occur after the Lord Ruler's fall. The Empire is in political chaos, but worse than that are rumors that the mists are killing people and the koloss -- who made up the Lord Ruler's most terrible armies -- are rampaging across the land unchecked.

Finally Hero of Ages pits Vin and her friends against a dying world and a god named Ruin, whose opposite -- Preservation -- seems to have disappeared entirely. It seems an impossible task, and it really is, but in the end... let's just say I really liked the end. Everything makes sense.

Don't let those summaries fool you. These three stories build one on top of the other. What I love about this trilogy is the way secrets are constantly revealed. Brandon Sanderson has created quite a world, and he takes you into it gently. By the end you know (almost) everything.

I also love the action. Allomancy is a really unique way of doing magic. By burning different metals, Allomancers can push or pull on metals, affect the emotions of others, or increase their own strength and perception. The result are Mistborn flying or tossing each other through the air, metal objects whirling towards their enemies, super-powered leaps and punches...

Gah, I'm not doing it justice. The action is awesome guys, just trust me. And that's just with the basic metals. Turns out there's more to Allomancy than eight metals, and there's more to magic in this world than just Allomancy. Seriously, if you like fantasy, adventure, or action, pick up the first one and see what you think.

Books I Read: Catching Fire

Title: Catching Fire
Author: Suzanne Collins
Genre: YA Science Fiction
Published: 2009
Content Rating: PG-13 for violence

After barely surviving the Hunger Games, Katniss finds herself in even worse trouble. The Capitol blames her for uprisings in the Districts, and they want her to fix things on her Victory Tour. She has no love for the Capitol, but the last thing she wants is for anyone to die because of her, least of all her friends and family back home. But when a simple show of respect for a Hunger Games' ally triggers a minor rebellion, she doesn't know what to do. Can she make things right? Could she run away with those she loves? Or could she become the leader the Districts are aching for?

I was worried about this book at first. I thought the Games themselves were what I loved about the first one, and I wondered if any political tension would be as compelling. About the end of chapter 3, though, I was just as hooked. Turns out it's also the Big Brother-esque Capitol that I like -- the realization that the only happy ending would be if the Capitol was overthrown, while chapter after chapter the Capitol proves that will never happen.

So I really liked it. Every time I thought the story was slow or predictable (which was rare, but it happened), something occurred to make me sit up and go, "No way!"

With one caveat: I felt like Katniss was kinda thick-headed towards the end. It's not that she should've seen the end coming (I didn't see most of it coming either), but once it came Katniss just didn't seem to get it, even after it was explained to her. I guess it's her character -- she never figured out about Peeta until the end of the first one either -- but it felt overdone to me in this one. It didn't ruin the book for me, but if she doesn't pick up on things quicker in the third one, I might be upset.

Books I Read: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Title: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Harry Potter 7)
Author: J.K. Rowling
Genre: YA Fantasy
Published: 2007
Content Rating: PG-13 for violence

It's the 7th book in one of the most famous fantasy series of our time. I can't talk about it without spoiling it (not that it matters), but who cares? If you've read the first six, you're going to read it.* And if you haven't, you'll read the other six first and have a pretty good idea of what happens in this installment.

All I can say is this: despite the ponderous camping chapters, the sometimes-awkward writing (that I would never have noticed before trying to be an author myself), and the occasional magical rule-bending for the sake of the plot... at the end I was moved, I was sad, and I didn't want to say goodbye.

Yeah, for all its flaws, the whole series is well worth reading. Happy to talk more in the comments (assuming I'm around; baby coming and all that).

 * Or really, you've already read it. I'm certain I'm the last Harry Potter fan to get to this installment.

Content ratings based on what I think a movie might be rated, if the things shown in the book were shown in the movie. Ratings are very subjective, and I don't always remember/notice things. If you're unsure whether the book is right for you, do some research so you can make your own decision.

Books I Read: The Hunger Games

Title: The Hunger Games
Author: Suzanne Collins
Genre: YA Science Fiction
Published: 2008
Content Rating: PG-13 for violence*

Growing up in District 12 is hard for Katniss. She has to hunt, illegally, just to feed her family, and every year two children are chosen from their district to fight in the tyrannical Hunger Games. This year, it's Katniss' turn. She must fight for her life against 23 other teenagers put in the same position -- all for the amusement of the citizens of Panem.

No joke, this book reached into my chest, gripped me by the ventricles, and didn't let go. Katniss is an awesome character: tough, often heartless, yet willing to do anything to protect the people she loves. The characters she meets are awesome: the boy who may or may not secretly like her; her surprisingly-sympathetic stylist; her mentor, a previous winner of the Games driven to drunkness, but who makes himself (basically) sober when he sees Katniss has a fighting chance.

The world is awesome: a post-apocalyptic America where the majority does hard labor for the few. And the games... Geez, it's like Survivor had a baby with Lord of the Flies and then gave it steroids. It's that cool. Before I read this, my favorite book was easily Ender's Game. Now... I'm not so sure.

One warning though: it leaves you hanging. I mean, the games end and everything, but the end of the book is not The End, strictly speaking. Fortunately there's a sequel (and more fortunately, I have it on my shelf).

* Content ratings based on what I think a movie might be rated, if the things shown in the book were shown in the movie. Ratings are very subjective, and I don't always remember/notice things. If you're unsure whether the book is right for you, do some research so you can make your own decision.