Book Review for: Take Joy

Take Joy

Title: Take Joy: A Writer’s Guide To Loving The Craft
Author: Jane Yolen
Genre: Non-Fiction, Craft Book on Writing
Age Range: Adults and Teens
Rating: 5 stars (One of my new favorite writing books)
Versions Available: Paperback (New and Used)

 

Accomplished writer Jane Yolen applies the same magic she used to turn her classic picture book, Owl Moon, from a simple story about a child and her father going out to look for owls into a magical poetic journey, and creates a craft book that inspires the reader to see the charm and adventure of writing.

Yolen, a prolific writer of novels, picture books, and essays, sees writing as a joyful activity, rather than the struggle many writing books present it as. While I do at times struggle with my writing, the more I read Yolen’s comforting, optimistic ideas, the more I got excited about my own work.

Yolen’s writing advice is not a Mary Sunshine take on writing, she is well aware that all is not rosy in the writing world, but she also delights in creating stories and worlds. The more I read about her approach to writing, the more I relished my own writing time.

Yolen combines her enchanting slant on writing with an organized, common sense structure. There is a chapter on each aspect of writing. I especially liked the chapters on gathering ideas, researching a topic, choosing a point of view, and dealing with rejection. She combines specific, concrete advice on each of these subjects with her own special blend of inspiration and gave me lots of new ideas on how to approach my own projects.

There’s no eBook version of Take Joy— my favorite way to read books—so I had to order a paperback copy through Amazon.  This made me realize that I expect to receive a book instantly now that eBooks exist.  The added wait was well worth it though. Now I have a paper copy full of penciled underlines to pick up and read anytime I need writing inspiration.

Book Review for: Sacred Economics: Money, Gift, and Society in the Age of Transition, by Charles Eisenstein

Sacred Economics

Title: Sacred Economics: Money, Gift & Society in the Age of Transition
Author: Charles Eisenstein
Genre: Non-Fiction
Age Range: Adults
Rating:  3.5 stars
Versions Available: eBook, paperback

 

How come doing the right thing for the environment is often not the smart economic choice? Why does it feel like most people are falling further and further behind economically, despite machines doing much of the hard labor these days? Is there another economic system that would allow people to live their values? Charles Eisenstein asks and attempts to answers these questions in his intriguing book, Sacred Economics.

Eisenstein assumes his reader knows nothing about economics and patiently explains the history of money and how exactly our current economic situation works—pointing out both the value of this system, and then the many problems and side effects it causes. He goes over what we’ve been taught are the “rules” of economics and neatly points out, one by one, how these “rules” aren’t real, they’re all made up and are only true because we as a society let them be true.

Eisenstein then focuses on the problem with interest-based loans and points out how this particular “rule” of always having to get bigger harms our society and has caused much of the inequality we have today. He explains in great detail how interest-based loans are the driving force behind climate change, lower worker wages, and the general hamster-wheel life most people feel trapped by.

Early on in the book Eisenstein makes a promise to the reader when he says, “Long ago I grew tired of reading books that criticized some aspect of our society without offering a positive alternative. Then I grew tired of books that offered a positive alternative that seemed impossible to reach: ‘We must reduce carbon emissions by 90 percent.’ Then I grew tired of books that offered a plausible means of reaching it but did not describe what I personally, could do it create it.”

Does Eisenstein make good on his promise? Yes and no. He does lay out a plan for realigning our economic system so it works better for most people. Much of his plan has to do with getting rid of interest, putting some kind of expiration date on money to deter hoarding, and tying the value of money to the health of the earth, rather than the gold standard. He goes through each point carefully, explaining how the current system works, and what kind of new system might take its place.

While the new ideas are intriguing and worth reading about, Eisenstein does not concretely describe how his most intriguing idea—tying the value of money to the health of the earth—would work in concrete terms. By the end of the book I did not feel like I knew exactly what my role was in changing things either. I did however have a much better understanding of how money works and why our current economic system works so poorly. I was also introduced to some very cool ideas about how we as a society might change things, which for me was worth the time it took to read the book.

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: You’re Never Weird on the Internet, Almost, by Felicia Day

FD pic

Title: You’re Never Weird on the Internet, Almost
Author: Felicia Day
Genre: Memoir
Age Range: Adults and Teens
Rating: 5 stars (I loved this book!)
Versions Available: Audiobook, eBook, Hardcover

 

I’ve been a fan of Felicia Day since 2008 when I watched her play Penny in Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog. Then someone told me her own Internet show, The Guild, inspired Joss Whedon to make Dr. Horrible, so I watched all six seasons of this fun show on Netflix.

The Guild, written and produced by Felicia Day, is about a group of World of Warcraft-like gamers who end up meeting in person. The group represents the variety of computer gamers that exist—slacker teenagers, bored stay-at-home moms, penny-pinching middle aged men, socially challenged twenty-something guys, and sharp-tongued college  students. It’s available to watch instantly on Netflix.

I’m also a frequent watcher of Day’s Vaginal Fantasy Romance Book Club on YouTube—where she and four friends discuss speculative fiction and historical romance novels that have a feminist bent. Plus, I always watched the two Supernatural episodes she appeared in each season, as quirky computer hacker Charlie, though I stopped watching the show regularly after season six.

Day writes about her unusual childhood being homeschooled in the south– “for hippy, not Jesus reasons”, how she got a full scholarship to study violin and math at the University of Texas at sixteen, how she built her acting career after deciding she didn’t want to be a professional musician, and how she ended up finding a more fulfilling career on the Internet. Her book was utterly charming and inspiring for me as a writer.

Day is very honest about her struggles with perfectionism, procrastination, and her lack of confidence. Her homeschooling childhood is fascinating, but the best parts of the book, for me, were the details of how a writing class, and then a critique group, pressured her into giving up her Internet gaming addiction and take the plunge into writing. Her group then helped her produced her own TV pilot. The details of how The Guild became an Internet success are interesting, funny, messy and so real.

Day follows these exciting chapters with several soul-searching chapters on dealing with the pressures of success in an honest reassuring manner. Success is one of my biggest nightmares and so it was especially comforting to read about Day’s struggles and triumphs dealing with her own demons and health issues. Spoiler alert: She even had her own thyroid health problems!

The last chapter on Gamegate is a good summary of this nightmarish attack on the women on the Internet. Day is honest about how hesitant she was to speak out about these attacks and why. Her story of what happened when she did finally speak out is harrowing but inspiring. Like other women on the Internet, she’s come to terms with how thick-skinned women need be, and has found her own way to be honest and real with the public, while at the same time protecting herself. It’s reassuring, inspiring stuff!

I listened to the audiobook version, that Day herself reads, which is like having your coolest friend tell you all about her Hollywood/ Internet adventures while you do the dishes or clean the house. I highly recommend this book for anyone who writes, likes gaming, enjoys popular culture, or just likes a good memoir.

 

Book Review for: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

Image- Coldtown

Title: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

Author: Holly Black

Targeted Age: Young Adult

Genre: Science Fiction/ Fantasy

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

 

Does the world need another young adult vampire novel? After reading, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, I’m happy to say, yes, we do, if Holly Black is going to write it.

When seventeen-year-old Tana wakes up at a sundown party, she realizes the terrible truth; she and her ex-boyfriend, Aiden, are the only ones to survive a vampire attack and they’ve both probably been scratched or bitten. Tana lives in a world where vampirism is caused by a virus and transmitted by scratches or bites. An infected human can get rid of the virus if the patient doesn’t drink human blood for 88 days, which means being locked up away from other humans. There are whole quarantined cities, called Coldtowns, throughout the country where the infected are sent to live.

Tana understands the danger of this disease and still bares the physical scars from when she was six years old and her mother was infected and locked in the basement by her father, in a misguided attempt to treat his wife at home. Tana watched as her mother went from a caring parent to a manipulative user who would do anything to get a drink of blood.

Rather than risk harming others; Tana decides to take herself, Aiden, and the good-looking mysterious vampire boy, chained to the bed, to Coldtown. No one leaves Coldtown but Tana’s pretty sure the vampire she’s going to turn in to to the Coldtown authorities is her key to getting out.

Holly Black takes the vampire mythology and manages to tell it from a fresh gritty angle with the quarantined Coldtowns— part MTV reality show, part cold war Berlin, and part prison. In addition to levelheaded Tana, Black populates the book with colorful characters, like Winter and Midnight, twin bloggers hitchhiking their way to Coldtown to chase their dream of becoming vampires, and Gavriel, the beautiful centuries-old vampire with a secret mission.

Book Review: Stranger and Hostage (Books 1 and 2 of The Change Series) , by Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith

Image- StrangerStranger (The Change, Book #1), by Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith

Targeted Age: Young Adult

Genre: Science Fiction/ Fantasy

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Stranger is an enjoyable new young adult science-fiction novel that stands out among the many teen dystopian novels published since The Hunger Games made the New York Times bestseller list. Instead of predicting that humans can only respond to hardship with aggression and malice, Stranger imagines a world in which the best of human nature also comes out after disaster.

The story takes places generations after a catastrophic event rocked the world and wiped out most of its technology.  Leftover radiation changes some people, giving them unique powers.  The “change” tends to occur during times of strong hormonal upheaval—pregnancy, birth, adolescence, or menopause.

The City of Los Angeles has been reduced to a small frontier town now called, Las Anclas—full of diverse people— who work together, for the most part, to keep the town independent from despot King Voske’s nearby empire. In Voske’s empire, which looks a lot like the typical dystopian society, “the changed” are controlled by the king and used to keep the commoners in line.

While Las Anclas works to value all its citizens, there are those in the town who fear “the changed”, but the town’s sovereignty depends on guarding the city walls against Voske’s army. Volunteers, called Rangers, protect the city. The town needs every strong warrior and that means accepting any man or woman willing, including “the changed”.

Sheriff Elizabeth Crow rescues teen prospector, Ross Juarez, one of the stories main characters, during a shoot out with one of King Voske’s men. Now the people of Las Anclas must decide if they will protect Ross and let him stay—despite his change.

Brown and Smith fill their world with a diverse cast of fully developed characters, free of stereotypes, and full of progressive ideas about relationships. The story is told through four narrators: Ross, two teen girls, Mia and Jennie, and another teen boy, Yuki— each with their own unique personality. Yuki is gay and his romance to another local boy is treated as if it’s any other romance.  In fact, there are a couple of non-straight romances in the book, between minor characters that are also treated as completely ordinary.

The multiple viewpoints made me very aware of the complexities of a town’s politics. As Ross, Yuki, Mia, and Jennie rush to defend their town’s unique hopeful nature, I felt like I was right in the center of a story of action and danger hoping for the best to happen right along with them.

 

Image- Hostage Hostage (The Change, Book # 2)

Target Age: Young Adult

Genre: Science Fiction / Fantasy

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

 

I won’t say too much about this book except that it satisfyingly continues the story of Las Anlas and Voske’s Gold Point City, again using multiple points of view to tell the story from many sides.  I’m looking forward to the next 2 books in the series.

 

 

Book Review for: White Cat (The Curse Workers, Book 1), by Holly Black

Image- White CatHigh school student Cassel Sharpe lives in a world much like ours, except that the mafia is mostly made up of workers—people with the magical power of touch. Cassel makes up for being the only one in his family without a magical power by being the best con man he can be, another family specialty.

When Cassel dreams that a white cat has his tongue, and wakes up on the roof of his boarding school, he’s considered a health risk to his school and is sent home to his worker family.  Cassel has always felt uncomfortable around his family since they covered up for him when he murdered his childhood friend, Lila.  He can barely remember the details of the murder, has no idea why he murdered her, and wants to be back at school where he can forget all about it. Now Cassel must use all the con skills he’s learned to try to get himself back to school, but while he cons his way there, he stumbles upon secrets his family has been keeping from him.

I’m quickly becoming a fan of Holly Black’s writing style.  Cassel’s in-depth understanding of con jobs and lack of understanding about normal life makes him an especially fun narrator in this entertaining, tightly-plotted novel. I guessed one of the twists in the beginning but still enjoyed watching Cassel figure it out. The audiobook is excellent.

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Age Range: Young Adult

Genre: Sci-fi/Fantasy

Version: Listened on audiobook by through Audible

Book Review: The Winner’s Curse and The Winner’s Crime, by Marie Rutkowski

Image- Winner's CurseThe Winner’s Curse ( Book #1 of The Winner’s Trilogy)

16-year-old Kestral, the daughter of a general in the Valorian Empire, is fast approaching the time when, by law, she must join the army or marry.  To distract herself, she buys a Herranian slave at the market, in a misguided attempt to help the young man. But her dealings with the new slave—Arin– open her eyes to how the Valorian Empire gained, and continues keep, its power.  Arin and Kestral are clearly drawn towards one another, but each is also fiercely devoted to their own country, and as they try to know each other better, their eyes are opened to the complicated political situation they are smack in the middle of.

This is an especially intelligent YA fantasy with a young women, who not only pursues romance, but also has her own political ambitions. I liked the way this story was told from both Kestel’s and Arin’s perspectives. Rutkowski sets up a believable living, breathing colonial-styled world full of political intrigue, and explores all the complex realities of trying to purse a relationship when there is an imbalance of power.  I identified with both Kestrel and Arin, and as their story unfolds, and felt just as swept up in their fondness for each other, even as the realities of their political situation forced itself in between the two of them, I kept hoping they’d somehow be able to stay together.

 

Image- The Winner's CrimeThe Winner’s Crime (Book 2 of The Winner’s Trilogy)

I’m not going to say much about the plot of this book because I don’t want to spoil the ending of The Winner’s Curse.  I will say I enjoyed this book as much as the first.  The story becomes even more political and I like how the romance simmers behind the scenes of Kestral’s and Arin’s devotion to their countries, each to trying to figure out how to do the right thing. As Kestral and Arin become further pulled into the political world, it becomes harder to figure out what is the right thing.

Like the first book, the second book wraps up the current plot and opens up an entirely new situation for the third book.  The third book looks like it will come out March 2016.  I can’t wait!

PS- The audiobook version of both books is excellent!