Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Search for MG/YA SciFi: Definitions of MG and YA


What I decided I needed to do before I officially started off on "this soft of mission...quest...thing", was define the parameters. What is MG? What is YA?

It's doesn't particularly matter, a good book is a good book at the end of the day, but I wanted to see, in my own little way, if there is enough out there of each. If laws are going to be passed to make it so that SciFi needs to, awesomely, be incorporated into High School and Middle School curriculums, then we should by golly hope that there is some out there, and good stuff too!

As I started doing research to define YA and MG (I had an idea of course, but wanted to make it more official like by seeing what others had to say on it) I found that these terms were actually a lot more ambiguous than I had originally thought and much more all encompassing. That isn't to say there aren't definitions, there are, but it wasn't one handy little sentence as I had hoped it would be.

That crossover appeal exists (hello! Adult reading MG and YA books here!) goes completely and utterly without saying...though, this is kind of saying it....moving on!

NOTE: I reserve the right to arbitrarily adjust and change these as time goes on. They will never be perfect, and that isn't my goal. This is simply so that when, in a review, I say something is MG (or not), people can come back to this and see how I came up with that criteria.


MG
Age of protagonist: between 8-ish and 12-ish (pre-teen)
Extreme content (profanity, sex, physical/emotional violence): minimal if at all, never graphic
Length: shorter (not a hard rule)
External vs. Internal: External, what happens outside of them is more important and drives the plot


Essentially what this boils down to is I felt the book could be made into a G or PG movie.


YA
Age of protagonist: 12-ish and up
Extreme content (profanity, sex, physical/emotional violence): edgier, more graphic
Length: Longer (not a hard rule)
External vs. Internal: Internal, their growth and examination of themselves is what mostly drives the plot

And basically this one becomes a PG-13 or above rating.


And by all means, if you have different definitions or I have forgotten something, let me know in the comments!


Here are some of the resources that I used to come up with my above definitions. Hopefully they are useful to you as well! (just googling 'YA vs. MG' as well gets you on the right track).

Middle Grade? Teen? Where do you draw the line? - by Upstart Crow Literary

An Introduction to Middle Grade and Young Adult Fiction, Part 1: Definitions - by SFWA

What is Young Adult and how does it differ from Middle Grade - on YA Highway

Theory: A definition of YA Literature - by Brooklyn Arden

Review: The Dark Unwinding (The Dark Unwinding #1) by Sharon Cameron



Source: Library

Reading Level: YA

Publication Date: September 2012

Short SynopsisWhen Katharine Tulman's inheritance is called into question by the rumor that her eccentric uncle is squandering away the family fortune, she is sent to his remote English estate to have him committed to an asylum. But instead of a lunatic, Katharine discovers a genius inventor with his own set of childlike rules, who employs a village of nine hundred people rescued from the workhouses of London. Katharine is now torn between protecting her own inheritance and preserving the peculiar community she has grown to care for—a conflict made even more complicated by a handsome apprentice, a mysterious student, and fears for her own sanity. As the mysteries of the estate begin to unravel, it is clear that not only is her uncle's world at stake, but also the state of England as they know it. With twists and turns and breathtaking romance at every corner, this thrilling adventure will captivate readers.

My Review: I had heard about this book and loved how it seemed kind of steampunk/ gothic romance. It had quiet a few good reviews but a part of me was hesitant to start it because what it if was just fluff as sometimes the hyped up books end up being?

I am happy to say that this one was not fluff!! Katharine was quite analytical and I could relate to her wanting to look out for herself but then falling in love with the people that she came to know.

There wasn't really steampunk, but I didn't mind. There were creative characters and I found myself laughing out loud more than once. The storyline was inventive and I am looking forward to more!

I will say that there were some...confusing parts...that I thought were resolved a little later than I would have liked. I get frustrated when I can't figure something out and those bits tantalyzingly on the edge frustrated me just a little bit. Sometimes it doesn't, but this time it did.

Also, the ending. It was ok. Hmm, I can't really say a whole lot without giving away stuff (and I hate spoilers so I won't do that to you!). Needless to say, it wasn't my favorite. Not just for what happened, but how people acted. Some acted spot on and I thought were really great. Others though, not as much.

Another point in the books favor though was the attraction between Katharine and another character. It was slow to happen, but made complete sense. I'm just looking forward to it resolving more in the next book!

A Neil Gaiman Children's Book Read-A-Thon Review: The Dangerous Alphabet



(Part of my personal
Neil Gaiman's Children Book Read-A-Thon)

Source: Bought

Publication Date: April 2008

Short Synopsis (Goodreads)
A is for Always, that's where we embark . . .
Two children, treasure map in hand, and their pet gazelle sneak past their father, out of their house, and into a world beneath the city, where monsters and pirates roam.

Will they find the treasure? Will they make it out alive?

The Dangerous Alphabet is a tale of adventure, piracy, danger, and heroism told in twenty-six alphabetical lines—although even the alphabet is not to be relied upon here. A delightfully dangerous journey from national bestselling author Neil Gaiman and the monstrously talented Gris Grimly, The Dangerous Alphabet is sure to captivate and chillyoung readers.


My Review: I was first drawn to this book because of the pictures and art style of Gris Grimly. That it is actually written by Neil Gaiman was a happy bonus.

The tone of this book is a bit darker than your normal Alphabet Books. I did, however, buy this to share with my future kids. But it won't be one that I let them read alone without explanation (there is even a Sweeney Todd reference in the pictures...but I'd probably let that one go over their head till they're older). 

That being said, this is a most amusing book. There is a note at the beginning that says "the alphabet, as given in this publication, is not to be relied upon." hahahaha, that just really makes me laugh. 

It's also fun that for each of the letters there are usually items that start with that letter in the picture. They may be grisly, like maggots on the M page, but hey, it's a part of the alphabet, right?

Monday, June 24, 2013

Audiobook Review: Girl of Nightmares (Anna #2) by Kendare Blake



Source: file provided by AudioGo for free for an honest review

Publication Date: Book&Audio - August 2012

Short Synopsis (Goodreads)It's been months since the ghost of Anna Korlov opened a door to Hell in her basement and disappeared into it, but ghost-hunter Cas Lowood can't move on. 

His friends remind him that Anna sacrificed herself so that Cas could live—not walk around half dead. He knows they're right, but in Cas's eyes, no living girl he meets can compare to the dead girl he fell in love with.

Now he's seeing Anna everywhere: sometimes when he's asleep and sometimes in waking nightmares. But something is very wrong...these aren't just daydreams. Anna seems tortured, torn apart in new and ever more gruesome ways every time she appears.

Cas doesn't know what happened to Anna when she disappeared into Hell, but he knows she doesn't deserve whatever is happening to her now. Anna saved Cas more than once, and it's time for him to return the favor.


My Review:

Audio Book (read by August Ross) - Somehow this guy had the perfect voice for Cas. Now, if I were to read either book in the Anna series it would be his voice narrating in my head.

He did seem a bit stilted reading, sometimes, however. And every once in a while I wasn't able to tell if he was reading something that was in Cas' head or if it was something that was said out loud. Maybe that's just because I am still getting used to audiobooks (I had shunned them for the longest time) though. Still, overall good reading.

Actual Story - This book was a bit harder for me to get through than I had originally anticipated. To start off, I hadn't been expecting a follow up book. 'Anna Dressed in Blood' didn't end perfectly, but I was actually ok with it. When word of 'Girl of Nightmares' came out, and especially after seeing the amazing cover, I was super excited for it. Finally we would get a chance to get to know Anna better.

No such luck. Most of the time is spent with Cas searching for a way to get to Anna. I think it's noble that he wants to save her from a life of torment, especially after she had saved all of them, but I didn't understand his attraction for her. I was hoping that getting to know her better would reveal that, but it didn't happen.

Don't get me wrong, Ms. Blake has created an interesting segment of the ghost hunting world with the athame and everything, but even though a considerable amount of time in the book was spent discovering that world, it wasn't enough for me. Maybe I'm just too used to sweeping epic fantasies and am unjustly applying that standard to this one, but all the same, it was interesting and I wanted more but didn't get it.

As with the first book, this is for mature audiences. Still in the YA category, but certainly the swearing and gore put it pretty high. I will say this though, the gore wasn't overly done. This is a ghost book after all, so there had to be some, but I didn't feel that it was overly focused on or anything, which was nice. Set the tone, but didn't progress past that.

Two final points are that the story kind of dragged for me and Cas didn't man up nearly as much as I expected him to, he just kind of stubbornly insisted on doing things the hard way.

For all that though, I'm glad that I read the book, if only to find out what happens (nothing earth shattering, but it does have more closure than the first book).


Saturday, June 22, 2013

A Neil Gaiman Children's Book Read-A-Thon Review: Blueberry Girl


(Part of my personal

Source: Library

Publication Date: March 2009

Short Synopsis (Goodreads): This is a prayer for a blueberry girl . . .

A much-loved baby grows into a young woman: brave, adventurous, and lucky. Exploring, traveling, bathed in sunshine, surrounded by the wonders of the world. What every new parent or parent-to-be dreams of for her child, what every girl dreams of for herself.

Let me go places that we've never been, trust and delight in her youth.


My Review: This was a cute book, written in rhyme, and well illustrated. It has a nice lilt to it once you pick up the meter. I have no clue what a blueberry girl is, but this is Neil Gaiman, so I just take it in stride.

It is a story about growing up and this message is presented in a very sweet way. There isn't a storyline of which to speak of, but not everything has to have one. If you just go along for the ride it gets it's point across (several other points too, if you are paying attention).

Apparently this was written for Tori Amos and her daughter Tash, who Neil Gaiman is the godfather of. 

A Neil Gaiman Children's Book Read-A-Thon Review: Instructions



(Part of my personal


Source: Library

Publication Date: April 2010

Short Synopsis (Goodreads)Trust Dreams.
Trust your heart, 
and trust your story.

A renowned storyteller whose words have transported readers to magical realms and an acclaimed illustrator of lushly imagined fairy-tale landscapes guide a traveler safely through lands unknown and yet strangely familiar . . .

. . . and home again.


My Review: I wasn't sure what to expect from this book (except for the obvious).

It ended up being not so much a story in itself, but an introduction/summary of other, older stories. However, I think the title gives fair warning to this. It's 'Instructions' on what to do during your adventures, not the adventures themselves, which is actually quite a clever idea (leave it to Neil Gaiman to come up with something like that...if you hadn't already been able to tell, I'm a fan).

When reading with children it could be a fun introduction to fantasy tales, what to be careful of when becoming a part of the adventures one reads about. Or it could be a good review, looking at the instructions listed and remembering examples in stories where the people followed the instructions or did not and what happened to them because of it.

The combination of Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess was perfect for this book. The illustrations are well done. Both the tone of the book and the pictures are soft and gentle, so go together quite well.

A Neil Gaiman Children's Book Read-A-Thon Review: The Day I Swapped My Dad For Two Goldfish




(Part of my personal


Source: Library

Publication Date: August 2004

Short Synopsis (Goodreads):
"I'll swap you my dad," I said.
"Oh-oh," said my little sister.
What if you wanted your best friend's two goldfish so much that you'd swap anything for them, even your father?

What if your mother came home and found out what you'd done?

My Review: This is a fun-ly illustrated romp through a boys attempts to get something more interesting than his dad (the Queen of Melanesia even makes an appearance!).

Technically this was Neil's first children's book. He's good at whatever he does! Neil and David McKean are as always a great combination and each page was a delight to read and look at. I like how even though the boy originally traded him for two goldfish, he admitted at the end that his dad was a good daddy.

All the same, I think it's cute how Neil Gaiman has said that the fact that children give this book to their fathers has made him feel guilty and so he his upcoming book, "Fortunately, the Milk", was written so that dad's could have an uplifting book given to them as a present. I'm really looking forward to reading that one.

This book was apparently inspired by Mr. Gaiman's own son, who, upon being told to go to bed, stated that he didn't want a dad...he'd rather have goldfish, and thus this little adventure began.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

A Neil Gaiman Children's Book Read-A-Thon Review: Crazy Hair



(Part of my personal


Source: Library

Publication Date: May 2009

Short Synopsis (Goodreads):
"In my hair Gorillas leap, 
Tigers stalk, 
And ground sloths sleep. 
Prides of lions 
Make their lair 
Somewhere in my crazy hair."

My Review: This was quite an enjoyable read. It's written in rhyme and is quite inventive (per usual for Mr. Gaiman).

The illustrations by Dave McKean fit with the story and, though I find his style a little dark sometimes, it is actually quite sweet at the end. Mr. McKean is quite creative and it was fun seeing all of the different things that he fit into the hair and how.

Apparently this book was inspired by Neil Gaiman's daughter Maddie, which is adorable.

Overall, a very fun time spent and my favorite this afternoon so far.

A Neil Gaiman Children's Book Read-A-Thon Review: Chu's Day



(Part of my personal


Source: Library

Publication Date: January 2013

Short Synopsis (Goodreads)Chu is a little panda with a big sneeze.

When Chu sneezes, bad things happen.

Will Chu sneeze today?

My Review: Obviously I'm not the target audience for these books. But as a kid at heart, and a potential mother, aunt, benevolent stranger who could buy this book for the kids it is meant for, this is my opinion - it's a cute, light-hearted read.

This being Neil Gaiman, I was expecting a little more, but I guess if I had understood that this was a little kids kid's book, it's simplicity would not have mattered. That being said, I thought that the illustrations by Adam Rex matched perfectly with the storyline and were very well done.

For all its simplicity and shortness, it was a cute little tale and one that would be fun to read to little kids and have them practice their panda sneezes or something.

PS - there is a picture in the back of the book of Neil Gaiman holding a baby panda. How cool is that!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Neil Gaiman Children's book Read-A-Thon

Guys...guess who I get to meet on Friday?

Photo courtesy of Neil's website

Ta Da! It's Neil Gaiman!!

Ok, so maybe 'meet' is a bit too strong of a word. I shall have the privilege of hearing him talk while being in the same room, and for about 2.5 seconds be in the same 3 ft. radius while he signs a few of my hoarded books of his. Am I excited? HECK YEAH!

I never thought that I would get the chance to meet him, but chance was in my favor and one of the stops on HIS LAST TOUR EVER is close by. Life is grand.


In honor of this momentous occasion I have decided to read and review 5 of Mr. Gaiman's children's books that I have not yet had the privilege of reading yet (ok, I may have read one of them...but it was a while ago). They are as follows (all links lead to Goodreads page. I will post a link to my review when completed):

1. The Day I Swapped My Dad For Two Goldfish - Review
2. Instructions - Review
3. Blueberry Girl - Review
4. Chu's Day - Review
5. Crazy Hair - Review
6. The Dangerous Alphabet


Feel free to join me! Or better yet, let me know which of Mr. Gaiman's works are your favorite (and it can be any medium, he is so prolific. He's even gotten to write a Doctor Who episode!)

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Review: The Rithmatist (Rithmatist #1) by Brandon Sanderson + Chalk Warfare


Source: Bought (Brandon Sanderson is on my Auto-buy list)

Publication Date: May 2013

Short Synopsis (Goodreads)More than anything, Joel wants to be a Rithmatist. Chosen by the Master in a mysterious inception ceremony, Rithmatists have the power to infuse life into two-dimensional figures known as Chalklings. Rithmatists are humanity’s only defense against the Wild Chalklings — merciless creatures that leave mangled corpses in their wake. Having nearly overrun the territory of Nebrask, the Wild Chalklings now threaten all of the American Isles.

As the son of a lowly chalkmaker at Armedius Academy, Joel can only watch as Rithmatist students study the magical art that he would do anything to practice. Then students start disappearing — kidnapped from their rooms at night, leaving trails of blood. Assigned to help the professor who is investigating the crimes, Joel and his friend Melody find themselves on the trail of an unexpected discovery — one that will change Rithmatics — and their world — forever.

Bestselling author Brandon Sanderson brings his unique brand of epic storytelling to the teen audience with an engrossing tale of danger and suspense—the first of a series. With his trademark skills in world-building, Sanderson has created a magic system that is so inventive and detailed that that readers who appreciate games of strategy and tactics just may want to bring Rithmatics to life in our world.


My Review: I LOVE Brandon Sanderson's writing. He's an awesome person as well (got to go to a signing!!) but seriously, his books are AMAZING!!!

That being said, I was a little...hesitant...to pick this one up because I was in a bit of a reading slump and feared that even the Amazing Brandon Sanderson couldn't get me out of it. Boy was I wrong!! This book kicked my reading slump to the curb! After only a few pages I was sucked in completely!

This is Brandon Sandersons first YA novel. He has an MG series (Alcatraz, that I haven't read yet, but will divert myself with until the next Rithmatist book) and of course his Fantasy novels, but this was the first official YA.

The only difference I noticed was that hints seemed to be dropped a bit more obviously. That isn't to say that I wasn't taken in. There were some very exciting twists and turns in the world and the magic system is as well thought out as anything Mr. Sanderson has done in his adult novels. Chalk warfare? Seriously? Yes, believe it, it's cool.

Side note on the magic system: I almost talked myself out of the magic system. I trust Brandon Sanderson implicitly, but I had seen pictures depicting the different types of chalk drawings and they didn't make sense to me. I thought it was going to be too hard to pick up the magic system (for some odd reason...it was the reading slump talking, that's the only excuse I can come up with). Again, after just a few pages things made perfect sense! So don't worry if you are a little intimidated by the magic system pictures. Once you get into the story, it blends together perfectly and you'll understand it, no problem.

The drawings were delightful at the chapter headings and I appreciated the instructional pages. I almost want to get some chalk and start practicing my own circles! This is a world I was a bit hesitant to step into because it was so different but soon, as with all of Brandon Sanderson's book, and any good book really, it was odd coming back into real life where I didn't have little clock crabs cutting the grass and chalk drawings with the ability to protect...and kill...as a part of everyday life.

The characters were great. Joel was such a scrappy and smart kid, I liked him a lot. He wasn't perfect, mind, and could get a bit above himself...but you know what, when people's lives are on the line, it's time to step past the boundaries and get stuff done, and Joel does that.

The other characters were fleshed out as well. Not all equally, but enough to make things interesting and I'm looking forward to getting to know them better.

I really really enjoyed what happened at the end with Joel and another student. I had plotted something similar in my head from an idea earlier in the book, but it turned into something so much better than I could have hoped! I actually finished the book (in the wee hours of the morn...living up to my blog's name!) and then the next day re-read the last few pages because I had enjoyed them so much.

There are elements of clock punk (similar to steampunk, but more gears) in the story, and it's actually not just thrown in there for show but plays an underlying key in the story. I have some questions concerning a few things that I hope will be answered as the series unfolds.

The books ties off nicely, but there is CERTAINLY room for more and many a tantalizing hint was dropped for the future. I am super excited to get back into the Rithmatist world, but the only problem is that it's not up until 2015!!! Ah well, like I said before, I have a few books still of Brandon Sanderson's to read and he has a few more coming out soon as well, so I will be amply occupied.

HIGHLY recommended!


Side note: I saw this very well done clip a while ago and thought it blended in perfectly with the chalk idea. Chalk is the only unifying theme between the two, the magic system in Brandon Sanderson's book being slightly different, but I thought this video was clever nonetheless. Enjoy!


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