Resources for Readers

DaVinciWhat to read? When I was young (a very long time ago) my mother took my sisters and me to visit the public library every week. This was “free” entertainment, and as we were fairly poor, it was a great deal. However, there was that day when I’d read everything of interest to me in the children’s and young readers category. Again, this was a long time ago, when “young adult” publications were not a big category. I remember her guiding me over to the adult fiction section (meaning not for kids, but nothing racy—it was a public library) and she suggested some titles. My first reads from that section were what mom would term “mysteries” although romantic suspense would be closer to the genre of that time. The authors were Phyllis A. Whitney and Mary Stewart, although I can’t remember the titles. So began my transition into reading for pleasure, an activity that is still a big part of my life.

Mom has been gone for a long time, as she had cancer and died before she should have, but there are plenty of other places to find recommendations for reading. I do belong to way too many Facebook Groups, and most of those have advertising that I largely ignore. For a time, Amazon was my favorite place to find books, and while it is a source for content, the weirdo reviews have made it less and less reliable for recommendations. Also, big A encourages authors to buy ads, making it even less relevant. If you are lonely and want to be inundated by promotional emails, there are lots of sites that promote books via that route, but by and large that content comes from paid ads, so it’s not reliable either. I read a lot of eBooks these days, and my public library has a few thousand titles, but I’ve noticed that far too many of them are “reprints” wherein established authors are giving their backlist titles new life, and I have either read those books are wasn’t interested the first time. So, what to do?

There are some solutions. First, check out Goodreads. It’s now owned by Amazon, but it seems to work quasi-independently from big A, so the reviews are more often by serious readers. Authors can have a “page” on Goodreads, too, which can be helpful. If you like a certain genre, typically there are blogs that feature books of interest. As a lover of science fiction romance, I like this blog: SFR Brigade. Some authors maintain a blog or a Facebook group, so check on a favorite writer’s web presence. Often writers will mention fellow writers or their own favorite reads. I’ve really enjoyed Susan Grant’s books and her blog, Come Fly with Me (now found via her website).

In addition to big A, readers sometimes leave reviews on traditional bookstore sites such as Barnes and Noble and Books a Million. As these sites primarily serve readers, the reviews tend to be written more literate customers. There may be fewer reviews, but I believe they are more reliable.

Also, if you know others who like to read, try forming a book club. My sister belongs to such a club, and members propose which books to read. She’s given me some suggestions of books that were well-received by her group, such as my current read: DaVinci, by Walter Issacs. It’s fascinating, and I would never have chosen it without the recommendation of that group over in Richmond, Virginia.

 

 

From a Distant Star— quick review and commentary

From a Distant StarThere are many themes in science fiction, and the one about an alien who is trapped on earth entering a host body isn’t exactly a new plot line. However, in this young adult novel, Karen McQuestion taps into the “kids dealing with big stuff” storyline that seems to be popular right now. (Think “Stranger Things” on Netflix or even Stephen King’s, IT! on the big screen.) Anyway, I didn’t find it difficult at all to get into this book and stay with it until the end. The main characters, Emma and her cancer stricken boyfriend Lucas, are believable, engaging, and their exploits are entertaining. Emma is particularly well drawn, and she is the point of view character for most of the novel.

I’m not a big fan of young adult fiction, but I genuinely believe that the most creative stories these days are found in that genre. Publishers, large and small, are not prone to take any chances with fiction intended for adult audiences, but they are more open to new authors and new ideas in YA fiction. This has been true for quite a while, and this trend plays out on the big screen. The Harry Potter novels were quite successfully adapted to film, as were the Hunger Games novels. The Divergent Series is another YA science fiction series that made it to the big screen. Even Twilight and its sequels begat movies.

Probably From a Distant Star won’t be the basis for a Hollywood block buster, but it would make a dandy film for the folks over at the SyFy channel. In the mean time, readers can find it in various formats, from $4.49 for the Kindle ebook to $10.95 in hard cover.

Cinder— a review

Young adult fiction is the best place to look for new ideas, or old ones wearing new garb. Marissa Meyer’s Cinder is the latter, as it is a science fiction version of Cinderella. The reviews were fabulous, so I purchased the eBook version, and promptly pushed it aside. Part of me wants to dislike YA, since I skipped into the adult section at the local library while I was in the seventh grade. Instead of beginning Cinder, I read a nifty self-help book called the $10 Root Cellar: And Other Low-Cost Methods of Growing, Storing, and Using Root Vegetables (Modern Simplicity). Yeah, I know, I can’t quite believe I read that one either. But, hubby and son have been watching a bunch of YouTube vids on how to survive a time WOROL (without rule of law) and/or zombie attacks. And, I don’t know about everyone else, but if I am staying cooped up, I want something to eat!

Okay, okay, I digress. So, having learned all about burying an old fridge to store root veggies in (for that zombie apocalypse), I pulled up Cinder on my iPad. And, almost immediately, I was hooked. The character is amazing; Meyer has so skillfully drawn her, that I can just see her stuffing her grimy gloves in a back pocket. And, yes, there should be little suspense. How many times did my kids watch the Disney version of Cinderella? Not to mention my reading the Golden Books version to my daughter. She used to call the stepsisters, “the uglies.” How cute, right? So, I know the plot.

But, while Meyer’s tale is sorta/kinda true to the traditional tale, there is sufficient deviation to give the reader some suspense. And, the narrative is pretty good, but the characters just about jump off the pages. Especially Cinder, who is a cyborg with a mean stepmom, two flighty “uglies” A/K/A stepsisters, and an android or two for good measure. The queen of Luna is perhaps the best villainess I have read about this year. Maybe this decade.

Others have noted that the Oriental overtones seem to be grafted onto the story, and that is a valid criticism. But, I am not sure that the storyline would have worked at all if the characters had been more realistically Oriental. This yarn is the first in a series, and I am looking forward to revisiting Marissa Meyer’s retelling of traditional stories.

So, even if you don’t get into re-tellings of fairy tales, if you like gritty science fiction, you might just like this story. And, if you do like re-tellings, this one is very good.

Cadets, a space opera entry for young adults

Cadets CoverWhile I prefer more sophisticated military science fiction, readers of all ages should enjoy Cadets, which is an entertaining read. The story follows a group of cadets, who are forced into growing up quickly when a menace from outside the solar system wipes out virtually all of the Earth’s defense force. The characters are not as complex as those readers would find in a space opera by David Weber or Elizabeth Moon, but for the intended audience, this yarn is quite good. The military strategy won’t impress adult readers, either. Still, it is suspenseful, with a bit of Independence Day style peril. A good read, with no worries for the parents.