When I read the first paragraph, I thought this was going to be another lame teen novel. It begins, "The early summer sky was the color of cat vomit." It goes on to detail what you would need to feed your cat in order to get the correct color of sunset-barf. I don't know why the author chose to keep this opening: it has nothing to do with the rest of the tone or writing of the book. So don't judge it on the first paragraph. After that, I was instantly hooked on this post-apocalyptic novel about a world in which everyone is surgically made to be "pretty" when they are 16. The world in which all the "uglies" and "pretties" live is very well developed, with original details, innovations, and flaws. The writing is effortless and I enjoyed the characters. The novel is not exactly unpredictable; yet, I was hooked from start to end.

If you like science fiction, I found a Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. short story called "Harrison Bergeron" that is similar in theme, except that instead of trying to raise everyone up to the standard of equality, the future world is bringing everyone down to a generic level.

Definitely check it out!

Author: Scott Westerfeld

Diary of a Wimpy Kid

This was given to me by a middle school librarian who wanted to suggest to me that more books be written in this format (I like to draw and write), because it's very easy for struggling readers to connect to. The print is large and "handwritten", the drawings are clever, and the book is quite long, even though it only took me about an hour to read. Yet, there was nothing about the book that was remedial. It's not in the same class as Sherman Alexie's Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian , but it's comparable in both style and theme. You could say that Diary of a Wimpy Kid is the middle school, white, tamed down version of
Sherman Alexie's book, but still has the same undercurrent of biting honesty. I think it's genius and speaks to a larger audience than just troubled readers.

Author: Jeff Kiney

Peter and the Secret of Rundoon

The concluding book of this very fun trilogy had me a tad disappointed, but over-all I had a wonderful time reading the Peter Pan books. They are creative and fresh, the writing is great, and the innovations on the classic tale feel very exciting. The whole time I felt like I was reading the "truth" behind the made-up story of Peter Pan, or a prequel to what what would eventually become a classic tale. As with the first two, they are excellent read-out-loud books and are infused with Dave Berry's humour throughout. No going wrong with these books, even though the last one felt a little slow and disjointed to me.

Authors: Dave Berry and Riley Pearson

Meet your daemon

In celebration of Philip Pullman's Golden Compass being made into a movie, you can go to the official website and answer a twenty-question test to find out who your daemon is.

I have a sneaky feeling there are only something like 10 options. When I googled it, I saw instantly that most people had snow leopards as their daemons. Mine, by the way, was Aenad the Jackal, which stood for modest, spontaneous, responsible, sociable, and solitary. Nevermind the whole usher-dead-spirits-to-the-netherworld association. So there you have it. Because there aren't enough ways to waste time on the internet.


Nothing kinky. I mean this purely as a gender issue in sci-fi fantasy. I've been putting a lot of thought into this, especially since my husband keeps wanting me to review books like the Hobbit and Redwall and Stardust. I've read them. They just didn't hold the same amount of interest for me as other books I've been reviewing here, and I finally decided it's because there is a vast difference between "male" and "female" fantasy. Let me preface this by saying that I generally don't buy into stereotypical gender differences, but that's not to say that I don't acknowledge gender differences. And it's funny that I would find them so starkly in young adult fantasy books.

Okay, here's my thought. There is a style of fantasy written primarily for boys and men. I can spot it almost instantly. The best example, of course, is The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. A very small handful of female characters. Mostly action. Mostly fighting or preparing to fight. Of course, Tolkien is also an exception to the style in that he includes plenty of lush description and even a fair amount of character insight. Other books, though, tend to stay on the surface of characters and have an almost lackadaisical quality to the writing; it's sparse, and almost self-aware. I had a creative writing teacher who once said some books have the feeling that the author is looking over your shoulder while you read and distracting you. I would say that Male Fantasy has that quality. The best example of this is Neil Gaiman's Stardust. Two-dimensional characters who move swiftly from one tension point to another. Women as objects or evil witches. Stupid little author asides (I find this to be true of all Neil Gaiman's books, by the way).

Female fantasy follows similar sterotypes. Shannon Hale's Book of a Thousand Days comes to mind. There is one small scene of violence, but otherwise the majority of the story is set inside of a tower. For almost three years. But you get to know the characters so well. You're inside of Dashti's head for the entire novel. The Twilight Saga is overtly feminine literature. Each novel builds up to a big scene at the end, but otherwise dwells of character development (not to be confused with maturity) and insights. The language is prosaic and descriptive, and plots follow a long, general arch, as opposed to male literature which would look more like an EKG readout if it were drawn linearly.

There are plenty of androgynous books out there, too. All the Harry Potters, His Dark Materials, the Chronicles of Ancient Darkness all come instantly to mind. Perhaps they have just the right combination of the above qualities?

So there, Hubby; I've now reviewed the Hobbit and Stardust.

New Moon and Eclipse

Disclaimer: I am writing this BEFORE I've even finished a cup of coffee (and I can hardly open my eyes before two cups, generally), after having stayed up late so that I could finish Eclipse. I'm debating what sort of verdict to render upon this whole series. Of the three Twilight books, I found New Moon to be the most readable. For one, Edward is gone for most of the book, and we are introduced to a new character. So there's already more action than in the first novel, in which Bella and Edward basically breathe on each other for about three hundred pages. For the record, I like Jacob. Until he phased, I pictured him as a larger version of Noah Hathaway AKA Atreyu from the Neverending Story. He was my first movie-star crush. Which I think just dated me. But it was enjoyable nonetheless.

So New Moon gets a thumbs up. Enjoyable, still somewhat suffocating, but with more action than just watching Edward sparkle in the sunlight.

Now on to Eclipse. As Aunt Linda would say, I give this book an "Oh Brother." It was agonizing to watch Bella and Edward play house. Trust me, I married my high school sweetheart (who I love, but I'm trying to make a point); I KNOW what two teenagers playing house is like. It causes extreme eye-rolling and annoyance. Edward becomes a disturbing combination of father and husband, and is borderline abusive under a facade of keeping the damsel in distress out of too much distress. Meanwhile Bella becomes a contrite whine-fest who spends the whole book playing the field and then wanting others to berate her for it because she's too immature to stop.

Issues of sex and marriage abound, and I really don't know what I thought about the presentation of either. It felt like author Stephenie Meyer was trying to appease too many camps: teens who want to read a good sex scene (don't hold your breath); parents and publishers who don't want the book to be a sex-fest (you'll be pleased); and some kind of moral christian proper order of events that goes love, marriage, lose virginity, become a vampire. In the end, it becomes a contrived tension point that goes absolutely nowhere. So there.

Well written, interesting, but suffocating, contrived, and VERY teenager-ish. I'm glad I read them. I think they're worth it, and I'm glad to see so many people, teens in particular, reading them. It satisfies the teen need to feel that there's something super dramatic going on that the adults are all oblivious to. Also, no matter what you look like or who you are as a person, you might smell good. To vampires and werewolves. Enough to make you the center of a mythical world. And best of all, you might end up with the splendid choice of an overprotective vampire father-husband or a drooling immature werewolf brother-boyfriend. And isn't that what we all secretly desire?

Author: Stephenie Meyers