Sweet Trouble

Rants, raves, book reviews and one girl's thoughts on life, the universe and everything.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld is a book set in a dystopian future where everyone undergoes an operation to become pretty on their sixteenth birthday. Not beautiful, mind, just pretty. Everyone is equally pretty and tall and even skin coloration is changed so that everyone is more or less the same. This sameness has been carefully researched and deemed what is best for society. The "pretty" operation is one of several mechanisms in place to prevent society from falling apart as it did hundreds of years ago as the ruins of ancient "Rusty" cities are preserved as silent testament. The Rusties of course, are (were?) us.

Uglies is a simple and yet convoluted novel. Ostensibly young adult, I still found it utterly engaging. In fact, I didn't want to put it down. Tally Youngblood, our heroine, has spent her whole life pining to be pretty. Westerfeld perfectly captures the intensity and "now"-ness of being fifteen going on sixteen. When Tally's new best friend declares that she doesn't want to be pretty and would rather live in the wilderness than undergo the operation both Tally and the reader are challenged to reevaluate what is important in life.

Westerfeld includes enough futuristic gadgets, action, romance and adventure to soften the moral lesson. There are even nifty science lessons on magnetics, gravity and biology that help present a very well thought out near future. Still, as much of a pleasureable thrill ride that Uglies provides, this is a book that makes you think. I would very much like to do this novel with a reading group and mine the many disparate elements that are prime discussion fodder.

Uglies is only the first book in a trilogy. Pretties and Specials tell the whole of Tally's story. The later books begin to rely on a lot of made up language and the interplay between some of the characters loses it's natural feel. I'm glad I read all three, but I enjoyed them in descending order: Uglies was phenomenal. Pretties was very good. Specials didn't do it for me at all. There's even a fourth novel set in the Uglies universe, with a new protaganist, but I'm almost afraid to read it. Just kidding. The latest book, called Extras is out in hardback meaning I must wait for the paperback release or try and get it from the library.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Blood Price by Tanya Huff

Tanya Huff's Blood Price, the first novel in her Victoria Nelson detective series, was the first book I read this year. There are five novels in the series and they are the basis of the (possibly defunct) Lifetime television series Blood Ties. I read Blood Price because a reading group I was participating in chose it. As an entry in the now innundated urban fantasy/detective genre the book seems sort of lackluster and cliched. I had to remind myself that it was written almost 20 years ago, and what is cliche now was fresh and new then, sort of. Still, while they must have gotten better for a tv series to be based on them, I think I would reccomend P.N. Elrod's Vampire Files or Jim Butcher's Dresden novels over the Blood set for readers looking for a series in this genre.

That said, Huff is at the top of her game in the recently released space Marine saga which starts with Valor's Choice and continues in The Better Part of Valor; These were combined in an omnibus edition called A Confederation of Valor. Her most recent novel was released in the summer of '07 and is called The Heart of Valor. * These are really great books. I enjoyed them just because they are good reads. Tight pacing, witty banter, realistic human behavior and interactions set in a compelling space age situation - it's a win-win situation! If you need more than that to reccomend them, well, I would imagine they would appeal to fans of Star Trek, anyone who enjoyed David Feintuch's novels, or even readers with an interest in military history or stratagems.

Valor covers the "sci" in the sci-fi/fantasy category, but Ms. Huff has also written a lovely set of fantasy novels. It has been several years since I revisited the "Quarters" books, but I remember them fondly. With as many books as I read a year, this alone is a telling compliment. Sing the Four Quarters is a stand alone novel set in a fantasy realm with a bit of magic, lively elementals called kigh and a music based type of religion which employ them. I'm a big fan of music in general and religion in books. It doesn't matter what kind, just that having any sort of middle age fantasy setting based upon our own seems to fall flat without acknowledging some sort of religion. I also like it when authors incorporate smells, hunger and bodily functions into their books, so maybe I'm a little weird that way. I digress: my point was that Sing the Four Quarters started with a hook that appealed to me and got better the further I read. Apparently Tanya Huff enjoyed playing in that world, too, as she gave us three more novels exploring it. Fifth Quarter and No Quarter follow the same set of characters in their own intriguing story in the same part of the world as the first novel. The Quartered Sea turns things on it's ear, taking the reader and a formerly minor charater on a heartwrenching journey into unchartered territory. These have also been collected as two omnibus editions.

All in all, I really do reccomend Tanya Huff as an author, but would direct readers to other works than the Victoria Nelson Blood series.

*In looking up the links for this I discovered that a fourth Valor novel is coming out this summer, as well. Glee! Valor's Trial just got added to my "to read" list!

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Congratulations, Meg Cabot!

It's nice to know dreams still come true. Congratulations, Meg, for the fruition of yours.

She's been banned folks, and not for Ready or Not (teen sex) but for the latest Princess Diary novel. Who'd have thunk it?

Read all about it at her BLOG. Also be sure to check out what author Maureen Johnson has to say about the process HERE.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

The Year Ahead

I thought I would take this opportunity to look forward instead of back. My last post dwelt on things I read last year. To balance that out I now present a sampling of things I plan to enjoy in 2008. Some are new, others have been around, some are critically acclaimed from '08, others are fluff:

Lord John and the Hand of Devils - Diana Gabaldon
Lord John and the Brotherhood of Blade - Diana Gabaldon
Bloodhound - Tamora Pierce (December 2008)
Melting Stones (an audiobook) - Tamora Pierce
Book of a Thousand Days - Shannon Hale
Fire Study - Maria Snyder
Dragonhaven - Robin McKinley
Remember Me? - Sophie Kinsella (February 2008)
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao - Diaz
Last Night at the Lobster - O’Nan
The Post-Birthday World - Shriver
Sin in the Second City - Abbot
Go Figure - Edwards
Suite Scarlett - Johnson (May 2008)
The Heart of Valor - Tanya Huff
Mississippi Jack - L.A. Meyer
Reserved for the Cat - Mercedes Lackey
A Countess Below Stairs - Eva Ibbostson
Peeps - Scott Westerfeld
King’s Shield - Sherwood Smith (August 2008)
Born Standing Up - Steve Martin

There will be more, no doubt, but these are on my "to-read" list, and I look forward to them.