What’s Your District?

Attention citizens: All immigrants to Panem are required to register and report to their assigned District immediately. Failure to do so will result in swift consequences.

A District 8 ID card for your blogess.

As you can see, I’ve been assigned to District 8, where textiles are the primary export. Working conditions are something like this, but I’m pretty nimble, so I have a good chance of keeping all my fingers…for now.

On a more positive note, we just received a shipment of pumpkins from District 11 (agriculture, of course), and we’re allowed to carve them once we’re done with our factory shifts. Wonder what the Capitol would think if I carved myself a Mockingjay pumpkin? I bet they wouldn’t like it at—

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CONTROL OF THIS BLOG HAS BEEN ASSUMED BY THE CAPITOL. PLEASE REMEMBER THAT DISSIDENT OPINIONS ARE HARMFUL TO YOUR DISTRICT AND TO PANEM, AND AS SUCH THEY ARE NOT PERMITTED. REMEMBER, THE 74TH HUNGER GAMES BEGIN ON MARCH 23, 2012. ATTENDANCE AT THE TRIBUTE DRAWING IN YOUR DISTRICT IS MANDATORY, AS IS THE VIEWING OF THE GAMES THEMSELVES.

MAY THE ODDS BE EVER IN YOUR FAVOR.

Teens’ Top Ten: Part 2

And without further ado or yammering on my part, here are the top five selections from ALA’s Teens’ Top Ten list for 2011.

Cover art for The Iron King by Julie Kagawa5. The Iron King by Julie Kagawa
Meghan’s half-brother is kidnapped by faeries and replaced with a changeling. Her friend Robbie, who happens to actually be a faery called Puck, leads her to the faery realms to rescue him. But Meghan’s quest will reveal things about the world that she never knew–and things about herself that she might not have wanted to know. This is book 1 of the Iron Fey series, with a fourth book coming out tomorrow, less than two years after the first book. Good news for impatient fantasy fans!

Cover art for I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore4. I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore
You’d almost think it was meant to be, right? I Am Number Four…is number four. John Smith is hiding out in Ohio, trying to avoid the notice of the Mogadorians. John Smith is a Loric, one of nine who are hiding out on Earth. But the Mogadorians are coming for the Loric children, hunting them down in order. The first three are dead now, and John is next. With a movie and a sequel (The Power of Six) already published, the pseudonymous Lore is popular indeed.

Cover for Crescendo by Becca Fitzpatrick3. Crescendo by Becca Fitzpatrick
In the sequel to Hush, Hush, Nora Grey and her sort-of-reformed fallen/guardian angel Patch set out to find out what happened to Nora’s father. The journey brings her into contact with Nephilim and worse–her arch-enemy Marcie. In trying to uncover the truth about her father’s death, Nora discovers family ties she never wanted and begins to question the only person she really trusts–Patch himself. Make sure you pick up Hush, Hush first, though, or Crescendo won’t make a darned bit of sense.

Cover of Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins2. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
The conclusion to the Hunger Games trilogy is probably the weakest of the books, but that still doesn’t mean it’s bad. District 12 has been destroyed because of Katniss’s rebellion, and now the rebels have taken her on as their figurehead. But it’s hard to lead a revolution when you’re just a teenager, and everyone wants to use her for their own agenda. When a daring raid on the Capitol is planned, Katniss chooses to lead it–but the sacrifices might not be worth the gains. In Mockingjay, Katniss spends too much of the book out of the action, having events relayed to her, but the final battles are so intense, you won’t be able to put the book down.

Cover of Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare1. Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare
Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments universe goes steampunk in this first installment of Infernal Devices. Tessa Fell’s brother has vanished, and when she goes to hunt for him she finds herself drawn into the shady Downworld, where two creepy sisters force her to practice her talent for shapeshifting. She’s rescued by a Shadowhunter with an attitude problem, and she’ll have to learn to trust him and his comrades if there’s any hope of saving her brother.

Teens’ Top Ten Countdown

The American Library Association has just announced their Teens’ Top Ten list for 2011! To nobody’s surprise, paranormal fiction dominates the list, but there’s a wealth of dystopian literature here as well. I’m going to be counting backwards, from 10 down to 1, because that’s what David Letterman does. 10 through 6 will be in this post, and 5 to 1 in the next.

Drumroll, please….

Paperback cover of Nightshade by Andrea Cremer10. Nightshade by Andrea Cremer
Calla is a werewolf who knows her future–as the alpha female of her pack, she will marry Ren, the alpha male, and she’s just fine with that. But when she breaks pack laws to save a human, she finds herself falling for him. What are the Keepers, who control the werewolf packs, going to do when they find out? (Note: This is the paperback cover, but it’s got way more personality than the hardcover, so I’m using this one.)

Cover for Lauren Oliver's Before I Fall9. Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
Ever feel like you’re just repeating the same day, over and over again? For Sam, it’s really true. After she dies in a car crash, she wakes up on the morning of the same day, with a chance at a “do-over.” But it doesn’t work–she dies again (and again, and again), always waking up on the same morning. So Sam gets a little crazy, breaking all the rules and turning her Mean Girl attitude up to 11. But is there more to life–or death–than having fun?

Cover of Kiersten White's Paranormalcy8. Paranormalcy by Kiersten White
Meet Evie and her pink rhinestone Taser (nicknamed Tasey). She has the unique ability to see through the glamours that supernatural creatures use when they prey on humans. She has a mermaid for a best friend and a possessive fae ex-boyfriend–you know, a typical teenager. But a string of murdered paranormal creatures and a surprisingly handsome shape-shifter are about to throw her world out of whack.

Cover for James Patterson's Angel7. Angel: A Maximum Ride Novel by James Patterson
This is book seven in the Maximum Ride series. Max is slowly being persuaded to “save” the human race by helping to accelerate evolution–but the scientists involved have their own dark agenda. Meanwhile Fang is putting together his own X-men-style group, but there’s an anti-human cult that might destroy them all. The key to all of this? Angel, the littlest of their Flock.

Cover for Ally Condie's Matched6. Matched by Ally Condie
This was one of my favorite books of the past year. The cover makes it look like a frothy romance novel, but the story is anything but. Cassia, like all the other 17-year-olds in her society, is Matched by the government with the most compatible boy in her generation. She’s lucky enough to get matched to her best friend, Xander, but another boy’s face shows up on her Match file. But Ky is an abberation who can never be Matched–so why did he show up? Finding the answer will make Cassia question everything she thought she knew about her Society.

Trilogy Bloat

When was the last time you read a YA trilogy with a really tightly-plotted, satisfying conclusion?

Go grab a trilogy. I’ll wait.

Okay. Now compare the length of the first volume to the length of the third one. I bet it’s a lot longer than the first one–and I bet you liked the first one better, didn’t you?

Take Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle trilogy. A Great and Terrible Beauty: 403 pages. Rebel Angels: 548 pages. The Sweet Far Thing: 819 pages. And if you’ve read it, you know that she could have cut about 300 pages right out of the middle without changing the story’s outcome.

How about the Twilight saga? The third book is 26% longer than the first one, and if we go all the way to Breaking Dawn, it’s 50% longer than Twilight.

Why does this happen? Well, sometimes the author gets to the third book of the series and goes “Oh, poop, look at all of these loose ends! Now I must tie them all up!” Other times, the publisher doesn’t really bother with major edits. If there was a new Harry Potter book, you’d buy it whether it was 600 well-edited pages or 800 sloppy pages, right?

Here are a few trilogies that avoid the dreaded bloat. In each case, the third book is no more than 25% longer than the first book. (Middle books may vary.)

Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy

  • The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. Mockingjay weighs in at 390 pages, only 4% longer than Hunger Games at 374 pages. With a movie coming out in 2012 and copies still on hold at the library, you should definitely get your hands on this one.
  • The Leviathan trilogy by Scott Westerfeld. Goliath is 543 pages, or 23% longer than Leviathan. (This does not take the fantastic illustrations into account.)
  • Sarah Rees Brennan’s Demon’s Lexicon trilogy. The Demon’s Surrender, at 387 pages, is 20% longer than The Demon’s Lexicon, the first book. (Oddly enough, the second book, The Demon’s Covenant, is 440 pages.)
  • Rosemary Sutcliff’s Roman Britain trilogy. The Eagle of the Ninth, which was made into the movie The Eagle, aka “that movie where Channing Tatum wanders around Roman Britain looking hot and occasionally emoting,” is 210 pages. The Lantern Bearers, the concluding book, is 219 pages, or about 4% longer.
  • The Grassland Trilogy by David Ward. Escape the Mask, the first book, comes in at 195 pages. The third book, Beyond the Mask, is only 227 pages, or 16% longer.
  • The grand prize in anti-trilogy-bloat goes to Julie Kagawa and her Iron Fey series. The first book, Iron King, is actually the longest book of the trilogy–by five whole pages. Talk about consistency!

And that’s it for now. Stay tuned for a Trilogy Edition of Rant ‘n Rave where I get even snarkier about the Gemma Doyle books!

Do you feel lucky, (steam)punk?

So: Steampunk. What is it, and what does it have to do with teen fiction?

The sarcastic answer is “Steampunk is what happens when goths discover brown.” A better answer would be a question: “What if the future happened earlier?” Steampunk goes back to the 1800s and imagines what would happen if we had created advanced technology using the materials available at the time. So instead of plastic and chrome, we get brass and leather–and always, always goggles. Instead of airplanes, there are steam-powered airships. Instead of cars, coal-fired velocipedes. Do you remember the movie version of The Wild Wild West? Okay, it may not have been a great film, but the giant mechanical monsters in the old-west setting is a good example of steampunk.

If steampunk sounds like the thing for you, give a few of these a try–

Leviathan, Behemoth, and Goliath (out this fall) by Scott Westerfeld. It’s World War I as you never knew it. Austria and Germany have their military strength in giant machines; Britain and her allies use genetically engineered animals to carry their soldiers. When an Austrian prince gets captured by an English airship, he makes friends with a young midshipman who is really a midshipwoman in disguise. Adventure ensues!

Airborn by Kenneth Oppel. Matt is a cabin boy on the airship where he’s lived all his life. He rescues an old man who claims to have discovered a species of “beautiful creatures,” but the man dies, leaving behind only a notebook filled with sketches. With the help of Kate, a rich young girl who happens to be the man’s granddaughter, he sets out to find if the creatures are real, or just a figment of a dying man’s imagination.

Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare. Set in the same universe as her present-day Mortal Instruments series, this book delves into a shadowy version of 1878 in England. Tessa travels to London to find her brother. Instead, she’s captured by two sisters who force her to Change, taking on the appearances of other people. She’s accidentally rescued by the handsome but troubled Will, who introduces her to a world full of clockwork wonders–and terrors.

The Girl in the Steel Corset by Kady Cross. Finley Jayne tries not to cause trouble, but when a young lord makes unwanted advances, she decks him with a punch that knocks him out cold. This isn’t part of a normal young woman’s skills, so Finley goes on the run to avoid questions. She meets Griffin, who shows her that she’s not the only person out there with surprising abilities, but danger is looming in the form of the mysterious Machinist.

The Parasol Protectorate series, by Gail Carriger. A proper Victorian lady never goes anywhere without her parasol–in this case, a brass-cased, steam-powered menace wielded by the formidable Alexia Tarabotti. Combining steampunk with the paranormal–she faces down vampires and werewolves–Alexia has to navigate Victorian society as well as the world of the undead. This one has some mature content, so give it a test run to see if it’s right for you.

But steampunk is more than just a fiction genre–there are communities of steampunk crafters and steampunk costumers as well. So check some of them out and get your ‘punk on!

Rant & Rave: Hourglass and Divergent

This is going to be a regular feature: I’ll whine about a book I disliked for a bit, and then I’ll counteract that negativity with a positive review. That way, the karma balances out, or something like that.

So let’s start with the Rant: Hourglass, by Myra McEntire.

Hourglass by Myra McEntireThe premise: Emerson, or Em for short, can see ghosts. Unlike most other protagonist’s families, Em’s older brother and guardian actually believes her–or believes that she sees something, anyway. So he enlists help from all sorts of paranormal agencies, hoping to find help for her. Nobody can help until a group called the Hourglass sends out Michael, a too-perfectly-handsome college student to whom Em is drawn like a magnet. She discovers that she’s not seeing ghosts so much as gaps in time–Em has the power of time travel, and with Michael’s help she might be able to save someone’s life.

The problem: You see how long it took me to get to the time-travel part of the premise? That’s about how long it takes the book to get there, proportionally speaking. If the jacket flap is talking all about time travel, maybe there should be some actual time travel going on. The first 300 pages of the book consist of Em being attracted to Michael, then attracted to Michael’s friend, and then attracted to the strange not-quite-ghost who keeps showing up in her bedroom uninvited. (Yes. She’s attracted to him, not alarmed and disturbed or anything.) When the time travel finally arrives, it’s very tense and dramatic, but ultimately it’s too little, too late to save the story.

The verdict: Hugely disappointing. I had such high hopes for this book–the premise is fantastic, but it got way too bogged down in a romantic side plot. I was expecting science fiction; instead, I got Twilight with ghosts. *sigh*

Now for the Rave–Divergent by Veronica Roth

Divergent by Veronica RothThe Premise: In a future Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each of which represent a virtue that its people value above all others. Tris is born into Abnegation, where selflessness is not praiseworthy, but mandatory. On her sixteenth birthday, she must choose the faction that will be hers for the rest of her life. She chooses the Dauntless, who live without fear and jump on and off of moving trains for fun. But it’s hard work being fearless, especially when she’s hiding a huge secret: When Tris was tested to discover what Faction would be her best fit, her test results came back inconclusive. She’s a Divergent, a fact that puts her in terrible danger, but may in fact be her strongest asset.

The Pros: Everything? Sorry, that’s not very specific. It’s hard for me to say exactly what I liked about the novel, because I was so drawn into it that I stopped reading as a librarian and just jumped into the story. The writing is good, and the world is built up very well. Tris is a very engaging main character, with her own faults and fears, and I have to say that I was pretty well blindsided by the story’s creepy and intense climax.

The Verdict: While it definitely does resemble The Hunger Games in its dystopian/apocalyptic future setting–heck, even the cover is vaguely similar–Divergent pretty quickly builds up a world of its own. The characters evolve in their own ways, too, and the inevitable romantic subplot is nicely done. In fact, Divergent succeeds in exactly the way that Hourglass fails–the romantic subplot remains a subplot, instead of taking over the entire novel. If you liked The Hunger Games, then Divergent is a good pick.

Breaking up is hard to do; or, a Dear Twilight letter

Do you feel obligated to finish all books you start reading?

Short answer? No.

Long answer? No, but I feel really guilty, like I might be hurting the book’s feelings.

Look, I’m sorry, Demonata. I’m just not looking for a long-term commitment right now. Inheritance Cycle, I’m tired of how you always promise me a sequel and never deliver. Breaking Dawn, it’s not you, it’s me.

Okay, Breaking Dawn, it actually might be you. But still, I’m sorry I abandoned you right in the middle of your vampiric pregnancy. I just couldn’t take it anymore–we’re not right for each other, can’t you see? Let’s just go our separate ways. You’ll find the right reader someday, and I’ll be free to search for a book that’s more to my taste.

I’ll never forget you, but it’s time to move on. There are lots of books in the sea, right? Or is that fish on the shelves?