Feb 10, 2011

Inside Out by Maria V. Snyder

Ever since I first heard about Inside Out I really wanted to read it. One thing you may remember about me is that I like to know as little about a book as possible.  I read just enough to find out if I’m interested and nothing more.  This can be good and bad. It can be bad when a assume a book is one way and it ends up being absolutely nothing like my assumption.  I am not really sure where this first idea came from, maybe a review or something, but I thought that Inside Out seemed somewhat similar to one of my favorite dystopian novels The Declaration by Gemma Malley. I was hoping this book would be just the kind of dystopian fiction I enjoyed but I worried it would be too light or too romance driven.

  

A lot of dystopian novels deal with ideas of  class.  Class in the future is almost like the new race, and different books deal with this in different ways.  Orwell has the proles, Malley has the surplus, and Snyder has the scrubs. I think  setting up the dynamic of upper and lower class in dystopian societies is extremely fascinating.  It is one of the best ways to suggest the dark side of utopia.  For most dystopias are meant to have a utopian root.  And what we see in this utopia is the haves. You can see an often socialist system taking on the capitalistic view of the haves and the have nots.  And how often the have nots only purpose in a society is to serve the haves.

 

Each book deals with their classes in a different way.  In the end of the 1984 I tend to have a feeling that the party members and the proles are separate but equal.  One might think that they are better than the other but when it comes down to it each class of people lives their life independently yet alongside each other.  In The Declaration one can see that the surplus are truly victims of the greedy upper and older class.  And in Inside Out the two classes end up being equally miserable and misinformed about the other class. Each of these story lines is integral to the story being told. They bring both balance and disharmony to each of these books.

 

The relationship between the classes in Inside Out one of the more realistically balanced ones I have read.  Snyder is able to build in a variety of interactions between classes.  This is essential to the world building element of any dystioian or fictional story because there are always different types of people no matter what kind of world they live in.  Especially in dystopian fiction people can get a cookie cutter feel, sometimes that feeling is extremely intentional, but other times it is a result of poor world building and a lack of understanding for the struggles of each individual characters.  Within the pages of Inside Out there are characters who are caring, compassionate, silly, stupid, ignorant, violent, and irrational.  But not one of those words would be used to describe one class as whole but not the other.

 

While Inside Out does not have the overwhelming psychology that made me fall in love with The Declaration, it did have many other elements that made it a very successful and enjoyable novel for me.  When the two classes, the uppers and the lowers, meet face to face they see they are not that different from each other.  Trella and Riley find what they understand about each other is mostly grounded in fiction.  This equalizing moment is very different from anything I have ever read in dystopian fiction before.  Dystopia is so much about the rivalry between the haves and the have nots.  Usually it isn’t about money or food, but it is about those who have power and those who don’t.  To see this moment that isn’t about fighting each other but  understanding each other that is a really nice element. This does hinge partly on the fact that the scrubs misunderstand who has the power.  This element of misdirection also builds a great dynamic in the story.

 

The scrubs in Inside Out have a secret hope.  That hope is called Gateway.  Scrubs are sick of the rules and the work and they want to be free from it all on the outside.  But as the story goes on it is apparent that a lot of people have an interest in Gateway, no matter what their class.  It is only the population police who seem to be concerned with it not being found and the rest of the population looking for it.

 

This book worked for me in so many ways it surprised me.  The world building was great. Snyder created a great way for the different characters to interact with each other. Everything had a nice flow it and nothing felt particularly forced. There were a few moments I was confused on character motivations, but I am willing to accept or dismiss that. One of the best parts of Inside Out was definitely the ending.  It makes me very, very eager for the second book Outside In.

Feb 9, 2011

Understanding Preschool

While I was pregnant with my first child, who is now 7, I dreamed of being a wonder parent who gave her child every artistic and educational experience under the sun. And that said loving child would embrace every moment of every effort toward the betterment of her mental edification.  But the realities of parenting are quite different from the expectations I set up for myself before I had a baby who would cry, have demands, and even worse, learn the word “no”.

 

My husband left me when I was pregnant with our second child.  My first daughter was not even two at the time.  And though I had planned out many toddler time activities for the months that she was inside me, I found it harder to execute them as consistently as I would have hoped.  Then my world was flung into chaos and the way that I decided to cope with my misery was to devote myself to creating even more educational material for my almost 2 year old. I would print and color and laminate while she played on the floor at my feet.

 

She really liked the puppets that I made for her and also some of the books. She liked the fact that mommy made them for her.  But other than that she wasn’t much into learning.  I always thought that teaching her would be as simple as making it fun.  But she was on to me, and she didn’t want to learn.  I found a few ways around her road blocks, usually through music and movement.  So many of my efforts became too much of  a struggle I decided this wasn’t the kind of mother daughter nurturing that needed to be going on.

 

I decided that despite my best efforts I would be leaving my oldest daughter’s education up to the paid professionals.  I didn’t know what to expect with my second daughter.  I can admit that I felt a little dejected about the whole experience with my reluctant older daughter.  But as it ended up, my younger daughter is beyond eager to learn and make use of all the materials I had gathered for her sister.  She is 5 now and will be one of the oldest kids in her kindergarten class when she starts next fall.  I have a renewed interest in trying to capitalize on the pre school years to establish basic skills, habits, and principles.

 

All of this is a very long way of saying that I was thrilled when I found an edition of The Write Start by Jennifer Hallissy on NetGalley a few months go. I immediately requested it, but I haven’t been able to squeeze in time to read it.  I have been beyond busy running the Accelerated Reader program at my daughter’s elementary school. Literacy has been a passion of mine for many years and it feels great to be making even a minor difference in the reading lives of students.  And now I can use some of the suggestions in this book to impact the writing life of my younger daughter.

 

Or at least I was hoping to. I adore The Write Start blog and I was really excited when I sat down with the book ready to apply some of the ideas.  But I didn’t find it approachable enough because every section seemed to go over all the writing stages when I was only dealing with one.  There was a lot of explaining why a practice was helpful, when I cared more about suggestions, examples, and projects. I was expecting to be able to sit down with my daughter and work on something directly out of the book.   The major issue I had with The Write Start was that it was far too didactic and went into much more detail than I needed.  I think if it was reorganized in a different way it could have been more approachable.  I did skim through the book and it had a lot of great information, but it just what I was expecting or looking for.

 

Summary from The Write Start blog: 52 playful activities are presented as ideal ways to invite your child to write. Each activity offers specific suggestions to meet the needs of Scribblers (pre-writers), Spellers (emerging writers), Storytellers (beginner writers), and Scholars (more experienced young writers) -– providing the just-right combination of fun and functional skill development.

 

I felt when I was reading the book there was too much focus on the type of writers and I couldn’t focus on the fun part. Also compared to the content I had seen on the blog previously, I honestly felt a little uninspired by the supposed playful activities presented in the book.  Honestly, it is hard for me to both share and feel my disappointment in this book when I feel like the author has always been an inspiration to me.  But when I read her blog my mind is always shooting off into new ideas and figuring out ways to adapt her ideas to the needs of my children.  But the way that the book was broken down stifled that for me quite a bit.

 

Another issue was simply that I did not see my daughter within the pages of this book.  I wasn’t clear on how to classify her and what she would enjoy doing.  She is clearly still a Scribbler but she desperately wants to be a Speller.  And I think being in between those two places made it hard for me to find the activities that were right for her. But what The Write Start did do for me was start me on the process of working with her more.  So I am grateful for that. It started me down the road and I went into a different direction.  We have started working on beginning letter sounds and she has shown a very high interested in reading.  This week I introduced her to her first sigh words and started a word wall.  We printed out a book and assembled it together.  I had her write a title for it and I was stunned at how easy it was.  How eager she was, and how much fun she was having.  

 

Maybe The Write Start was the right book for the wrong time.  I would definitely consider looking at it again some other time.  I will also continue reading the blog and other educationally related ones.  I not only have many months before my younger daughter starts school, but my older daughter is still a reluctant learner.  I am excited because my 7  year old loves it when she gets to be a teacher and I think this may be a way to make headway with her and refine some of her skills.

Feb 8, 2011

Can You Survive?

I love Simon and Shuster’s GalleyGrab program. I have been able to get the opportunity to read some great titles, and check out books I never would have tried before.  On a whim I decided to grab Can Your Survive the Zombie Apocalypse?  This book releases today, make sure to track down a copy.

 

Ever since LTUE last year I have had a growing interest in zombies. 

 

I am pretty much a wimp; I don’t do anything that’s scary. Zombies for me are parts of horror films and not in the type of books I like to read, but when I went to the LTUE panels about zombies I loved hearing how they have transformed over the years.  Now Zombies are deeply rooted in ideas of dystopia and the end of the world. 

 

This book by Max Brallier is pretty awesome because it is just like those choose your own adventure books you loved as a kid but this one is for adults.  I was excited to see an adult choose your own adventure because I have been secretly longing for the opportunity to read such a book, even a kid’s one again. The zombie apocalypse is a perfect background for a choose your own story structure.  I also really enjoyed the quality of the writing.

 

Do you want to know the best part about Can You Survive the Zombie Apocalypse? I survived a lot longer than I ever did as a kid.  When it comes down to it, no, I cannot survive.  And while that may be a little disappointing living longer than 5 page turns has it’s perks too.  The unique part about the path that I took was that it was the government that ended up taking me out, in true dystopian style.  I was able to ward off the zombies just fine, but I made the mistake of trusting the government and they killed me for it.

 

I think that zombies are the perfect type of story to use the second person perspective with.  Even in my writing above you can see how engrossing reading the story feels.  The writing is so attainable, realistic, that I don’t feel a disconnect that I often felt when I read these stories as a kid.  I couldn’t taste and smell those worlds.

 

The story sets up pretty well, telling you who you are and how you normally act. You are a 20 something at a job you don’t like when a zombie outbreak takes over Manhattan. You stand in horror in your New York City office.  But that is just where the fun begins.  There are 150 paths, 75 endings, and the best part, the countless references paying homage to zombie culture.  I also especially liked the great illustrations that really brought me back to my original choose your own adventure experience.

 

Feb 7, 2011

Reality is Broken Tour Stop

I need to first of all thank Lisa of TLC Book Tours for forgiving me about forgetting to post my review of this remarkable book last week like I was supposed to.  When I first heard about this book on Twitter I was immediately interested. Jane McConigal has created a work that in title alone grabs my interest: Reality is Broken – Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World. For me, the interest is two fold. The title connects with my dystopic sensibilities. If reality is broken, what does that mean for us who think they are content living in it? As far as the subtitle goes, I have always been a little bit of a closet gamer myself.  I have played a fair share of hours on various RPGs and MMOs.

 

If all that wasn’t enough there is something very striking about the cover to me.  When it first showed up in the mail my senses started tingling because of all the ways that this book looked interesting to me.  Of course books are so much more than their cover, but it still doesn’t stop me from getting excited about them.

First line: “Gamers have had enough of reality.”

This first line of this book seems appropriate enough. Isn’t gaming a lot about escaping for a little while. It is the same reason why we read and watch movies.  I think a lot of people have had enough of reality.  But gamers seem to be a special breed of escapists.

“Who are they? They are the nine-to-fivers who come home and apply all of the smarts and talents that are underutilized at work….” To me this is one of the essential ways that reality IS broken.  The way that as a society we have failed to find a way to take advantage of the mental resources of many individuals who are forced to support their family with mindless, menial work.  These are only one type of gamer that McConigal writes about but she continues, “as they devote more and more of their free time to game worlds, the real world increasingly feels like it’s missing something.”

 

McConigal makes a strong case that this need to escape is a symptom we shouldn’t ignore.  We can even use the ideas of gaming to boost productivity in homes and in school.  Yesterday Reality Is Broken was reviewed in the L. A. Times.  Reviewer Janice P. Nimura said of the book, “I was skeptical about the message in ‘Reality Is Broken.’ But Jane McGonigal is worth hearing out — her point in this provocative manifesto is that the energy and devotion that gamers pour into video games is a powerful force and that we are fools if we fail to harness it.” What McConigal brings to the table is a new perspective.  I am pretty sure that anyone who reads her book could take something useful and motivating out of it, even if they weren’t buying into the concept.

 

Reality Is Broken does a nice job of balancing out approachability for both gamers and non gamers.  If you game already you can find a little bit of yourself on the page, but if you don’t there aren’t a lot of references and jargon to confuse you. While the book may be a little over simplistic about the realities of life, the little fixes that McGonigal suggest throughout the book could easily be applied in different areas of many people’s lives.

 

If you think you would enjoy Reality Is Broken then you are in luck! The Penguin Press is offering one of my lucky readers a copy of the book.  Leave a comment saying you are interested and you will be entered into the giveaway. Be sure to check out Mr. X’s review and enter HIS giveaway.  Both contests end 2/12/2011 and are open to the US and Canada only. Be warned that if I don’t have a way to contact you I will not be able to pick you as a winner. Thanks again to Lisa, TLC Book Tours, The Penguin Press, and of course Jane McGonigal.

Lenore Presents Dystopian February

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Two times a year Lenore focuses on dystopia on her blog. And I find it overwhelmingly delightful. Well, it feels wrong to find dystopia anything delightful, but that is just how I am. Every time Lenore focuses on dystopia it just gets better and better. She does some really amazing author interviews. Here is what Lenore has in store for her readers:

Here's what I have on tap:

dystopian-februaryReviews of over 20 dystopian novels, past, present and future - complete with my infamous Zombie Chicken Ratings. (Refer to my index of dystopian reviews for latest updates and past reads)

 

Interviews with authors of dystopian fiction.

 

Dystopian Mash-ups - These are fun posts where readers imagine their favorite characters dropped into other books.  Could Elizabeth Bennett survive THE HUNGER GAMES?  Would Katniss be best buds with Frankie from THE DISREPUTABLE HISTORY OF FRANKIE LANDAU BANKS? You tell me!

 

Previews of dystopian fiction coming out later this year and beyond.

Contests and book giveaways and more!

 

I always love to hear what Lenore has to say about the dystopian novels I have read. I admire her focus to be able to blog so well and so consistently. She always does a great job. I really hope you stop by and leave a comment or two for Lenore and maybe win some awesome prizes.  If you get really lucky, you may find some dystopian reviews from me here on the blog, fingers crossed.

Feb 6, 2011

Books Read in January 2011

1. The Passage by Justin Cronin (audio) - dystopian, post-apocalyptic
2. Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde (audio) - dystopian
3. Wasteland by Francesca Lia Block - young adult
4. Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin (audio) - historical fiction
5. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Vol. 1 - graphic novel, steampunk?
6. Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon - fantasy, young adult
7. The New Policeman by Kate Thompson - fantasy, Ireland, young adult

 

My favorite was Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon. It is the most amazing fantasy novel I have ever read.  I think this is the type of novel that could make a fantasy lover out of anyone.

 

Every year I promise myself that I will make sure to blog a monthly list of what I read, and every year I convince myself it will be too boring and that of course I will be able to remember. Which I can’t. So here it is! Smile

Bibliophile Exploring Dystopia | Speculative Fiction