It was my birthday last week. It wasn’t a particularly exciting day, but Corey made me a delicious Korean dinner (at my request) and he even got me these adorable treats from T&T (the monster of Asian supermarkets). The cute little bear-faced treats are actually small cakes, and the pink and yellow tubes are a long tube of cake, with some cream, and the outside is some sort of doughy goodness that is common in Chinese sweets.
T&T birthday treats.
In return, I made cupcakes for Corey’s birthday five days later. I used the Flower Cupcakes from Smitten Kitchen along with the Chocolate Sour Cream Frosting from Smitten Kitchen’s best birthday cake/icing duo. The cupcakes were very good – perfectly moist with a light, mildly sweet flavour. The chocolate icing was good but I recommend halving the recipe for cupcakes – as I used less than half and now have a ton of chocolate sour cream icing sitting in the fridge. I guess this is not necessarily a bad thing.
I also made a no-bake cheesecake with cherry topping, but unfortunately I have no photos of that one…
It is HOT in Ontario. Apparently we are breaking some heat records. I turned on the air conditioner as soon as I got home from French class today. There was a massive thunderstorm so I thought maybe it broke the humidity and I could turn off the A/C as I hate wasting energy on it, but the air is still very warm and I greatly regret my energy-saving decision. This cold raspberry beer isn’t even helping.
In other news, I have a part-time job at a local children’s bookstore! I am thrilled to be back in the world of children’s literature. Actually, as a bookseller and aspiring librarian, I am thinking of starting a book review blog for children’s books and YA books. I’m still working out what I’d like to do with a blog like that – my biggest decision right now is whether to keep the children’s reads as a separate blog from the YA reads. I also need to figure out my audience (professionals in the field, or people who just like to read?). Hopefully that can launch soon once I work out the details. I might even just start a book blog for all books I read, just for myself, regardless of genre or targeted age group.
And now, I will melt into the couch with my beer and continue watching Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals.
Graceling by Kristin Cashore.
This is my second time reading Graceling. What with working at a children’s/YA bookstore for three years, and then working at a library and finally working on an MLIS, I haven’t had much time for rereading books. It was good to finally reread a novel that I enjoyed the first time around.
Katsa is Graced, meaning that she was born with an inherent and enhanced ability. She is a warrior, killing and performing violent acts for her uncle, the king of one of the seven kingdoms. Graceling is a story about her journey from being her uncle’s pawn to an individual, independent young woman who fights for what she believes is right. Like with any story about a coming-of-age, she makes some interesting discoveries about herself along the way.
This book is perfect for teen girls (and adult women!) who like strong female protagonists and can’t bring themselves to read Twilight. It’s also great for Twilight readers, to expand their horizons on the fantasy genre and the idea of a female protagonist. Although I would classify Graceling as fantasy, it would also have appeal to readers who don’t normally read fantasy – it’s sort of medieval fantasy, and there is actually no real magic in it, just the idea that some people are born with enhanced abilities.
One for Sorrow, by Mary C. Sheppard.
Issy is a 15-year-old teenage girl living in a small community in Newfoundland. Her older sister is a bitter school principal, whose dreams were tossed out the window when their mother fell ill after Issy was born. Their mother is bedridden, and their father is good to them but is away working on the sea for most of the year. Issy is determined to escape when she turns 16, but is held back by one thing: she can’t read.
I really liked this book – the community is very tightly knit, and Sheppard really conveys that small town sense of everyone knowing each other. The family members all go through their own major transformations, which was good for the story. There is a sense of satisfaction when you complete the book, and even though Issy is the main character (and narrator), the entire family changes in many ways.
This would be a great story for a teen girl who’s looking for a realistic novel. Issy is painfully shy but quite likeable. There is minor romance, but the driving force of this novel is Issy’s personal development in the middle of a small community.
The Hunger Games.
A spoiler-free review.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is one of the best YA novels I have read in a long time. It is thrilling, suspenseful, fascinating, well-written, and the first part in a trilogy.
The story of Katniss Everdeen is set in District 12 of Panem, formerly North America, in a post-apocalyptic world where the government, called the Capitol, controls its surrounding districts by selecting two teenagers between the ages of 12 and 16 from each of the twelve districts to participate in an annual event called the Hunger Games. These teenagers must fight their way through a Survivor-esque game, which is shown on television to all of Panem. Instead of getting voted off at Tribal Council, though, the last player left alive in the arena, a constructed space in the vast wilderness, is the winner.
There were many things I loved about the first two books in the trilogy. They are incredibly addictive. I read The Hunger Games in one evening, Catching Fire this morning, and the third book, Mockingjay, will be released in late August, otherwise I would have devoured that by now.
The second book is just as good as the first, and just as exciting. The writing is engaging because it is very intelligent but still accessible to readers of many levels. For reluctant readers, the story is well-paced and interesting enough to capture your attention. For adults who say they don’t read children’s or YA literature, this is a series that adults would really enjoy. There is a lot of darkness to it – Katniss faces many choices that challenge her morals. The politics of the Capitol and around Panem are important to the story. Collins’ portrayal of a post-apocalyptic North America is very interesting. We get to know several characters throughout the course of the story, and most of them are well-rounded and realistic. Katniss is a strong female character who’s been through some tough times, but she’s also very vulnerable in many ways.
I could go on and on, but really you should just do yourself a favour and pick up a copy. I got Corey to read it on our trip to Quebec, and we talked about it non-stop as soon as he finished.
I just finished Incarceron by Catherine Fisher. There was a review on io9 about a month ago, although it’s been out for a couple years now. It looks like it’s recently been released (or re-released?) in the U.S., so maybe that’s the explanation for all the latest excitement.
There are two main characters in the novel: Claudia and Finn. They inhabit two different worlds. Incarceron is the prison that is believed to contain a perfect utopia but is actually a vast, seedy underworld of cells, corridors, forests, and seas. The outside world contains a technologically advanced civilization that has reverted to seventeenth century traditions to maintain certain social constructs. Finn is a teenage boy who cannot remember more than the past few years of his life in Incarceron, and begins having dreams and visions of another life. Claudia is the daughter of the Warden of Incarceron, a prisoner herself of an arranged marriage, and determined to uncover her father’s secrets.
The story itself is exciting, the characters are well-developed, and there are several twists and turns on the way, but for me, Incarceron itself was the most interesting thing coming out of this book.
First of all, I wasn’t expecting to start reading a YA fantasy/SF novel and find myself being confronted with the image of the Panopticon. Taken right from that Wikipedia article, “the concept of the design is to allow an observer to observe (-opticon) all (pan-) prisoners without the incarcerated being able to tell whether they are being watched.” Incarceron is a Panopticon. Since prisoners of the Panopticon don’t know if or when they’re being watched, they live in a constant state of paranoia.
The imagined physical and social structures of both Incarceron and the outside world are actually really interesting to read about. I thoroughly enjoyed that aspect of the novel.
Off on a hunt for more YA dystopian novels… I’ve just put a hold on The Hunger Games at my local library.