January Book Quota – MET!

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Late last year after doing an analysis of my reading proclivities, I discovered if not quite to my dismay at least to my consternation that I am seriously lacking in several departments. Not surprisingly, YA is well represented. Also not surprisingly, books for adults are not. Neither are some other categories. So I set myself a monthly quota. In addition to aiming for at least ten books per month I would also aim to read at least one book from one of my underrepresented categories.

Well, I know it’s only January but I’m pleased to report that I have already met my quota for this month! Here are some mini reviews of the books in question:

The Theory of AttractionOne book written for adults: The Theory of Attraction by Delphine Dryden (18+!)

I’m slightly ashamed to admit I’ve had this as an eBook for sometime, and have scanned through its very steamy/raunchy sex scenes. Like everyone else on Earth last year I was baffled and intrigued by the 50 Shades of Grey phenomenon. When I skimmed that book and found it lacking, I sought another example of the BDSM erotic romance category and came up with this delightful book by Delphine Dryden. Maybe because the Alpha male in question is a science nerd (swoon), maybe because the spunky heroine, Camilla, actually IS spunky, funny, adventurous, very smart and very independent, but when I finally properly read this book I was really quite moved by it. The sex is enchantingly hot yes, but the romance of this book is what really grabbed me. This couple, close together in age and status (he is a post grad scientist, she a programmer) are balanced in a way I have rarely seen in romance or erotica. Her forte is the outside world – friendships, office politics, everyday life – areas where the socially awkward hero, Ivan, is weak. He on the other hand is confident in two things – his impersonal science (something to do with rockets. Yes, it actually IS rocket science) and being a very discreet but very enthusiastic and exacting dom. The enticement of Camilla into his lifestyle is 100% believable, and boy is she not sorry she decides to submit. She has been previously reserved and a little embarrassed in the bedroom. Ivan quickly cures her of that.

Did I mention the sex scenes are hot? Hot hot HOT. And romantic. And the story includes an entirely believable level of angst that really resonated with me. I was cheering for Ivan and Camilla practically from page one. Dryden’s website indicates a sequel is on the way and I can’t wait!

The Humming Room

One Middle Grade: The Humming Room by Ellen Potter

Big change of pace with this one. I purchased this in paperback at a great price from my daughter’s school Scholastic books program. Touted as “inspired by THE SECRET GARDEN” I was curious about what might possess and author to make such an audacious claim. Well, perhaps the label is deserved, but frankly I might have described it as “derived from THE SECRET GARDEN”. Although well written, this felt a bit like a Hollywood attempt at a modernization rather than an inspired interpretation. It was too close to the source material to be original, but too far to be respected on it’s own merits.  Where the original is a work of genius, this is simply a well written mystery for kids. I know it’s a hard standard to live up to. Maybe the author should have thought of that, and written something a bit more original.

My daughter devoured it – she loves mysteries and manor houses – but for me, not so much.

Writing the Other (Conversation Pieces Vol. 8)One non fiction: Writing the Other by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward

This one has been on my TBR for a while.  I’ve been interested in the issue of “writing race” or as Shawl and Ward refer to it, “writing the other” for some time. I’m a white, anglo, straight, middle class, able bodied woman. Though my first inclination is to populate my books with those similarly blessed (or cursed, depending on how you look at it) that would not only be boring, but would be doing a disservice to the diversity of readers out there, who have just as much right to see themselves reflected in the heroes, love interests and even villains of young adult literature. But like many white writers, I’m a little scared.

So I had high hopes for this book but it left me a little unsatisfied. One problem is that both the authors are writing quite fringy sci-fi and that seems to be their area of interest. So I was not at all familiar with many of the works they cite. That made it difficult to relate to. The other problem I had with this book, which is just a personal thing, is that it relied very much on the completion of exercises. I’m sorry. I’m a very busy professional writer, not an undergrad. I don’t really have time to do exercises. I would have preferred a more complete analysis from the authors.

There IS a good book in this issue. Maybe a collection of essays from people like Justine Larbalestier, Zetta Elliott, or Matt de la Peña. This one didn’t really add much for me.

Our Gleaming Bones UnrobedOne collection of poems: Our Gleaming Bones Unrobed by Grant Loveys

Lord, I’ve set a daunting task for myself, reading a collection of poetry each month. I know I could cheat and read nothing but poetry for children but the idea of this quota system is to challenge me. Well, this collection of poems from Newfoundland writer Grant Loveys certainly did that. Maybe my poetry reading skills are rusty, but I think I only understood about 25% of these poems. There were some definite stand-outs. I tend to lean toward the narrative in poetry (and all things) at the best of times, which explains my love of verse novels, so it was Loveys forays into narratives that grabbed me the most. “What the Robot Learned of Love” had a pleasing tragic sci-fi quality, although I think it went on for two lines too long. “No Mercy” constructed a careful analogy of love and loss and grief and, of all things, wasps. “Exile” paints a scene that most women “of age” can relate to – the doctors visit wherein breast cancer is discovered.

It’s hard to give this an overall score, since I’m generally so clueless about poetry. Maybe I’ll equivocate and just say it’s worth a look.

Girl in the ArenaOne “genre”: Girl in the Arena by Lise Haines

No, no, no, just no. Haines’s expressive talent is wasted on this embarrassing disaster. This is a premise that had to be mangled and manhandled into a plot, a book that kills it’s most interesting character to get the “high concept” girl gladiator on her own journey, a book that requires so much suspension of disbelief that I felt I needed to be lobotomized just to buy its ridiculousness. I can only surmise that this was an unashamed and rather cynical attempt to jump onto the hoopla train about The Hunger Games but it doesn’t even come close. It’s a mish mash of all the worst dystopian tropes: arranged marriage, totalitarian regime, blood-thirsty media, kick-ass heroine, love triangle, arbitrary and implausible technology that the resolution depends on, negligent parent, hyper-innocent sibling (an autistic clairvoyant? Please!). Worst of all, this girl gladiator only has one fight! With someone who is desperate not to kill her (because he loves her, naturally).

Make it stop.

DramaOne graphic novel: Drama by Raina Telgemeier

I loved Telgemeier’s SMILE, which I read in FRENCH, so I was pretty excited to pick this one up, in English. My daughter (8) read it first and when I read it I was a little shocked that it had such overt LGBT content. My daugher knows about boys who marry boys (hello, her kindergarten teacher!) but as she’s only eight, she hasn’t read much romance at all, much less the complicated gay/straight/not sure romance type stuff that forms the plot of DRAMA.  We talked about it, and she didn’t seemed scarred or anything – I guess I was just a bit surprised to find this in a middle grade book. The world has changed.

I liked DRAMA. I certainly related to it, being a drama club nerd myself, but I did find the overwhelming focus on who likes who and who is going out with whom and who kissed who and who asked who the dance to be not only a bit much but also a bit overdone. The author has described DRAMA as a graphic novel version of the TV show Glee and I have to agree. That has often been my complaint about Glee – so much harping on about who is and isn’t gay, who is or isn’t in love, who is sleeping with who, it all starts to seem more juvenile than it needs to be. I get that both DRAMA and Glee are for kids, but Telgemeier’s previous books, SMILE and a myriad of other high school shows and movies, are much more sophisticated.

By comparison DRAMA felt a little, well, undramatic.

Atticus of Rome, 30 B.C.   (The Life and Times Series)One pre-20th Century historical: Atticus of Rome by Barry Denenberg

Picked this up in the library book sale and read it while DD swam with a friend. As history, this book has it all – the clothes, architecture, food, politics and culture of the period are rendered clearly and in great detail. But all that detail came at the cost of the main character, Atticus, who was flat and inscrutable. I didn’t even have an idea of his age until the very last pages. In fact I don’t think he says a word until that scene. Much too much time was spent on the supporting characters and their thoughts and feelings. There was enough for a gripping plot, but poor Atticus seemed like he was watching it from the sidelines rather than being its hero.

I bought this because I thought DD, who loves historical novels, might like it, but I think she will be bored.

Defy the StarsOne verse novel:Defy the Stars by Stephanie Parent

I’ve had this one on my Kobo for ages. I finally read it late one night when I couldn’t sleep. Like The Humming Room, Defy the Stars is also inspired by a classic piece of literature – Romeo and Juliet. Unlike The Humming Room, I think Defy the Stars does enough new with the source material to make it a worthwhile read. it moves at a very fast clip, and while Julia and Reed do seem to fall in insta-love at least Julia seems to take time to reflect on this. She knows, in other words, how unlikely it is, and that makes a difference to the reading.

This is packed with intrigue and melodramatic, maybe a bit much for my adult sensitivities. But as I read I thought, “this might not be for me, but teens will LOVE it”. And perhaps when you are writing YA, there is no higher praise.

I was worried, when I set my monthly quotas, that I would have trouble meeting them, or that I would lose focus and just read a bunch of YA contemporaries. Well I did read a few YA contemporaries, but I managed to me my quota nonetheless, and more than a week early! Given how busy I am, I might get started on February’s quotas right now.

Don’t tell anyone.

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