Ticker by Lisa Mantchev

Ticker-Cover-FinalDid you ever read a book and suddenly realize it sounds like something you would have written in high school? At first there’s an appeal — ooh, this book sounds right up my alley! Then, confusion — wait, what is going on? Then, embarrassment — oh dear. I’ve written something like this and thought it was really, really good.

That’s what Ticker was like for me. The premise is fantastic — a girl with a clockwork heart living in a steampunk version of London is torn when the man who enabled her to live despite a heart defect is imprisoned for experimenting on human subjects. The man promises he can fix her heart by upgrading the equipment…but he’s also kidnapped her parents. Strife!

Meanwhile, this 16-year-old girl is doing some kind of romantic dance with the 19-year-old head of the city’s giant private military. The second he arrives in her house in about the first chapter, the reader is subjected to this awkward teenage hormone-fuelled “will they won’t they”  tension characterized by the typical YA tropes — the Handsome Young Man, the Near Death Experience, the Hospital Visit (complete with flowers) and the Homo Ex Machina Rescue. The only thing more awkward than this romance is how unawkward it’s meant to seem.

There’s a lot of death, a lot of feels, if you will, exacerbated by several gratuitous scenes where our Handsome Young Man takes an Orphaned Waif under his wing and allows us to see what a fantastic father he’d be. The heroine literally dies no fewer than three times. There’s a lot of focus on clothing and logistics and what everyone is eating, as well as several scenes where our Handsome Young Man and I’m-Not-Frail Heroine must pretend to be married — for the sake of disguise! To save her family! To interrogate photographers!

It’s bizarre. Add in a steampunk-style Morse code text messager, and you have a novel that could have delved much more deeply into questions of life, prolonging life by artificial means, the dangers of a private military, and the ethics of medical testing. Instead, you have a novel with exciting promise that is marred by excessive sentiment, fashion and an odd obsession with lemon cake.

November 26, 2014 at 7:05 am Leave a comment

LT Book Club: ‘Through the Looking-Glass’ by Lewis Carroll

aliceMy New York Book Club’s October read was Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass. This is a total classic and tells the follow-up story of the famous Alice after she returns from Wonderland. After Alice climbs through the mirror in her drawing room, she finds herself in the world of the Looking-Glass, where all kinds of ridiculousness occurs before she wakes up back home with her kittens.

I honestly can’t say I enjoyed Through the Looking-Glass, even though my favorite poem, “Jabberwock,” is first found in its pages. I just found it too silly, which I realize is sort of the point and I should probably loosen up. All the same, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at Alice.

Recommended Edition:
I read the Books of Wonder edition published by Morrow in 1993, which was terrific because:

a) it had beautiful silver edges
b) it replicated John Tenniel’s illustrations using the original wood-blocks
c) it followed Victorian standards of type-setting and font

It was a great little copy and I highly recommend it.

I recommend taking a page from Alice in Wonderland and having a little tea party. Break out the tea cups, sugar cubes, and loose-leaf! (more…)

November 25, 2014 at 6:48 am Leave a comment

YA Conversation (Final Part)

As has been widely reported, young adult literature is enjoying huge popularity at the moment with adults and teens alike reading YA books in droves. Consequently, the genre has become the target of some spirited debate (most famously from Slate’s Ruth Graham in her piece “Against YA”).


In Part One of this conversation, we discussed the differences between “adult” and “young adult” novels while in Part Two, we talked about how schools are using YA and if a YA-based curriculum is really a good thing and Part Three explored the lack of complexity and the phenomenon of adults reading young adult novels.

Kate: Here’s the one niggling doubt in my mind about YA literature: while the complexity of the works being studied in schools has definitely fallen, in their day, works by Austen and Dickens were lumped in with other, more frivolous works as something to distract young people from more important reading of “the classics.”

Jane Austen talks about the “dangers” of novels in Northanger Abbey, a work that mostly centers on a young girl who takes novels, including works by Austen’s predecessor Ann Radcliffe, rather more seriously than she should. Few except scholars of that time period and students of popular literature read Radcliffe now. When they do, they read it as a reflection of the culture of the time, filled with anti-Catholic hysteria and a preoccupation with social class and virginity. The Romance of the Forest is a rip-roaring good story, but there’s not much there apart from sensationalism and a glimpse into the Gothic sensibility.

So my question is, how can you tell if a contemporary work is worth studying closer and may be the next Austen, or if it should be enjoyed as a good story and maybe a reflection of culture, such as Radcliffe? (more…)

November 20, 2014 at 6:40 am Leave a comment

‘The Westing Game’ by Ellen Raskin

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin is one of those books I can’t believe I escaped middle school without reading. Not only is it something of a contemporary classic of children’s literature, it’s also just the sort of thing I would have loved as an eleven-year-old (or so): a twisty mystery with a precocious girl and a possible murder at the heart of it. I was all about those sort of books and, accordingly, devoured every single Zilpha Keatley Snyder book at my school’s library.

But for some reason The Westing Game remained unread. I honestly have no idea why since it turned out to be a very enjoyable read. The Westing Game tells the story of multimillionaire Sam Westing. Upon his (apparent) death, his sixteen designated heirs gather in his spooky old mansion to play “The Westing Game,” which will give each of them a chance to walk away with all his riches.

It’s a fun book, although, much as when I re-read The Egypt Game, I was quite surprised at how seriously the book treated certain social issues—and how topical such things still are today. Although published in 1978, The Westing Game openly approaches today’s hot-button issues including racial prejudice, bullying, and even the immigrant experience. It’s an amazingly on-point book that squeezes a lot into a little murder mystery for children. (more…)

November 18, 2014 at 7:02 am 3 comments

A year in reading: The final ten

At the beginning of the year, I made a silent goal for myself: I would read 50 books in 2014.

In 2013, I read 43. In 2012, 40. In 2011, even with completing my MA and moving continents, I somehow managed to read 45. I figured I could push myself onwards to the inevitable next plateau: FIFTY IN 2014!

There are right now just eight weeks left in 2014 (a startling enough revelation on its own) and I’m at 40 books read for the year. This means I have eight weeks left to top off ten books, which inevitably led me to wonder: which ones should they be?

My “To Be Read” list is extensive and has, in the last few months, been largely predicated on what books have come in at the library. The very last inter-library loan book I’ve requested is coming in this week (How Fiction Works by James Wood), so I’m more free to set my own pace at this point. (As long as I can stop myself from requesting anything more in the next eight weeks. We’ll see how that goes.)

Because I have librarianship in my blood, this “which books will finish my year?” question could really only be solved with a list. In fact, a categorized list. I’ve given myself five categories, with two books each, so I’m not glutting myself on any particular genre in the next eight weeks.

This might just be the most thoughtful eight weeks of reading in my entire life. Here we go!

Classic Literature
1. The Man of Property by John Galsworthy (The Forsyte Saga: Book I) – finished 11/20/2014
2. Westwood by Stella Gibbons

Children’s Literature
3. The Westing Game by Ellen RaskinReviewed 11/18/2014
4. Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll – finished 10/30/2014

Graphic Novels/Comic Books
5. Velvet by Ed Brubaker
6. Pretty Deadly by Kelly Sue Deconnick – finished 11/18/2014

7. Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck – finished 11/18/2014
8. Blue Mind: The surprising science that shows how being near, in, on, or under water can make you happier, healthier, more connected, and better at what you do by Wallace Nichols
EDIT November 18: What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding: A Memoir by Kristin Newman – finished 11/23/2014

Recommended Reading: Books suggested by friends
9. The Rise and Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman – finished 11/2/2014
10. Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

What do you have on deck for the rest of the year? Chime in below!

November 13, 2014 at 7:48 am 2 comments

‘Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking’ by Susan Cain

quietSusan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking was an affirming read. Yet it wasn’t that way for the reasons the title might lead you expect. While Cain does champion the introvert and explain more about what introverts have to offer our very pro-extrovert society (spoiler alert: a lot), the broader message of Quiet is far more inclusive and comprehensive than just “the power of introverts.”

Quiet looks closely at both introverts and extroverts with a critical and scientific eye. Rarely does Cain veer into the anecdotal evidence, except when giving examples of a specific scientific finding or symptom.

The best part of this even-handedness is that is slowly allows you to recognize the parts of yourself that fit in with both. As Carl Jung noted (and Cain quotes), “There is no such thing as a pure extrovert or a pure introvert. Such a man would be in the lunatic asylum.” People are often and consistently classified as strictly introverted or extroverted, so it was revelatory to me that you can be a mix. Introverts can sometimes be gregarious. Extroverts can sometimes need down time. And you can skew one way or the other without conforming to every stereotype about either.

Part of “the power of introverts” Cain creates in this marvelous book is the power to remove these preconceived ideas of what an introvert is. (more…)

November 11, 2014 at 6:25 am 2 comments

‘Alice + Freda Forever’ by Alexis Coe

alice-fredaThe book in front of me was slim and had a striking red cover with girlish and looping white handwriting taking up most of the space. The back featured the same white script and a little sketch of a man’s razor blade with black paragraphs of praise from various other authors below it. It looked dramatic, fun, and, above all, like something you’d want to pick up.

I describe the book to you physically because I have never been asked what I’m reading so often as I was when reading Alice + Freda Forever by Alexis Coe. And I never received so many weird looks as when I answered the question. The looks plainly said: “Lesbians? In post-Civil War Memphis? Murder? Well, okay, Corey, you do you, I guess…”

Most people I talked to about the book thought it was fiction and found it plainly weird of me to read such a thing. Those who persevered in the conversation understood Alice + Freda Forever to be nonfiction, but still clearly didn’t see the appeal.

I found their reactions almost more interesting than my own in that they mirrored the reactions of Alice and Freda’s contemporaries almost too perfectly—no one could understand these young women’s “unnatural love” to the point of thinking them insane. Alice was condemned to a lunatic asylum, not because she had murdered someone and showed absolutely no remorse, but because she wanted to marry another woman. That, according to the judge and jury and the rest of America, was clearly crazy. And, more than 100 years later, apparently wanting to read about such a thing is also considered more than a little eccentric.

One wonders what my conversational companions would think of Alexis Coe, author of the book and self-professed obsessor about the case of Alice Mitchell and Freda Ward! (more…)

November 4, 2014 at 6:16 am Leave a comment

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