The Thousandth Floor by Katharine McGee

thousandth-floorInformation

Goodreads: The Thousandth Floor
Series: The Thousandth Floor #1
Source: Library
Published: August 30, 2016

Official Summary

A hundred years in the future, New York is a city of innovation and dreams. Everyone there wants something…and everyone has something to lose.

LEDA COLE’s flawless exterior belies a secret addiction—to a drug she never should have tried and a boy she never should have touched.

ERIS DODD-RADSON’s beautiful, carefree life falls to pieces when a heartbreaking betrayal tears her family apart.

RYLIN MYERS’s job on one of the highest floors sweeps her into a world—and a romance—she never imagined…but will this new life cost Rylin her old one?

WATT BAKRADI is a tech genius with a secret: he knows everything about everyone. But when he’s hired to spy for an upper-floor girl, he finds himself caught up in a complicated web of lies.

And living above everyone else on the thousandth floor is AVERY FULLER, the girl genetically designed to be perfect. The girl who seems to have it all—yet is tormented by the one thing she can never have.

Amid breathtaking advancement and high-tech luxury, five teenagers struggle to find their place at the top of the world. But when you’re this high up, there’s nowhere to go but down….

Review

When I started The Thousandth Floor, I expected it to be a “guilty pleasure” type read, light but engaging with its portrayal of the lives of rich, glamorous teens in a futuristic Manhattan.  That’s pretty much what it is, though I’m not entirely sure about the “engaging” bit.  While brainstorming this review, I realized I have to very little to say about the book.  It’s about rich teens who spend their time shopping, drinking, and plotting petty revenge on the people who are ostensibly their friends.  The entertainment is supposed to come from watching their sordid little lives fall apart, I suppose, since even the rich and powerful have dark secrets.

The real problem with the novel is that, since everyone is petty and vengeful, they’re very difficult to like.  I can get behind flawed, realistic characters, but these characters are, by and large, really horrible people.  It’s hard not to feel they half-deserve anything bad that happens to them.  I wasn’t really rooting for any of them to solve their problems, and I’m not very interested in reading the sequel.  I’m also not a fan of casual use of hard drugs or underage drinking, and there’s a lot of that in this book. Basically, I would have avoided these people like the plague if I’d known them in high school, and I have the same gut reaction of dislike reading about them in a book.  There are maybe two characters who border on “likable” for me, and that’s not enough to make me emotionally invested in the novel or a whole series.

I did somewhat enjoy the world-building. Who doesn’t want to read about the lives of the ultra-rich 100 years in the future, where practically anything seems possible with technology?  However, I did get the impression that the setting was chosen mostly to add glamour to the story.  Since it wasn’t really “the point” in some sense, it wasn’t fully fleshed out.

The series is being billed as futuristic Gossip Girl (and like Gossip Girl, comes from Alloy Entertainment). I think it’s fair to say that if Gossip Girl-esque stories are your genre, this novel might be for you.  If you’re not into watching the lives of rich teens crash and burn, the novel doesn’t have much else to offer you.

3 stars Briana

Should Bloggers Provide More Evidence in Their Discussion Posts?

Discussion Post Stars

In the book blogosphere it’s generally understood that most bloggers write for fun, that the rules of writing are relaxed, and that no one expects a minimum of ten credible sources to be listed at the end of a post.  You can write a discussion post based around general observations such as, “It seems children are reading less these days,” or “People are always making fun of adults for reading YA,” and no one comments asking for the latest statistics to back up these assertions, or a few examples of published criticism of YA readers.  However, there are still times when providing numbers or links could bolster your claims.

Whenever I read anything, my gut reaction is to ask myself, “But how do they know?  Where is the proof?”  I begin by reading generously, of course, and try to see the issue from the other person’s perspective.  However, I am also trained to read critically.  The fact that one person claims something does not make it true.  I need evidence.  And I need that evidence from a credible source–that is, from a source where the author is an expert in the field and their assertions have been reviewed by other trained individuals.

The burden of proof is especially important to me when I am on the Internet because very often the credentials of an author remain a mystery.  I can go to a social media site like Tumblr and read all sorts of information about history, politics, and culture, but more often than not I have no way to verify–from the post–whether the author writing this has done any research.  Very often a post may end with a disclaimer to the effect of, “This is true, but I can’t find where I read it.”  Furthermore, I usually have no way of knowing who the author is.  Is it a feminist scholar writing on her blog?  A college student repeating a lecture?  A thirteen-year-old repeating what they learned in class that day?

I do not mean to insult thirteen-year-olds when I note that the information offered in schools is often partial and simplified, so as to be able to fit within the constraints of the curriculum.  There’s a difference between reading a middle school textbook on the Civil War and learning from a National Park ranger at a Civil War battlefield.  One of the sources has far more context and depth.  One of these sources, for instance, will hopefully know more about the contributions of women and Black Americans to the war than a sidebar on the last page of the chapter.  One of these sources can challenge our assumptions about what we know about history and expand our minds.  The other, often not so much.  They’re still busy learning and may not yet have grasped the larger contexts of their lessons, or read the latest studies, or or learned the historical development of the field.  The Internet has allowed a wider number of voices to speak, but not all of these voices are equally knowledgeable or authoritative on specific matters.

Of course, finding credible sources is time-consuming and it often feels silly when we, the author,  know that we know what we’re talking about.  It often feels painful when we know that we know what we are talking about, but we can’t find the source that knowledge originally came from!  And it can feel funny when very few other people use sources.  Will we look too academic?  Will people think we’re intellectually elitist? Can’t people just take our word?

Perhaps many of our readers do take our word.  However, I know that I am far more likely to be convinced by an argument where it’s evident the author has done the research.  I don’t necessarily need a Works Cited at the bottom of the post, but I do need numbers, dates, and links.  I want to be able to verify your work and determine if those statistics are significant, if the information is outdated, if the source is biased. Otherwise, when you tell me something, I am going to remain skeptical.  I have to remain skeptical because, as it’s becoming increasingly clear, the fact that someone tells you something does not mean it is true.

Edited to Add: I do want to recognize the many comments below stating that they don’t need evidence for opinion posts or that they don’t need numbers for certain arguments.  I think it’s obvious that certain genres require  more evidence than others.  This post of course does not provide links or numbers because it is my opinion and I don’t make any claims that need evidence (unless I were to point towards discussion posts I found unconvincing, which would, I believe, be seen as mean-spirited on my part).

And, of course, certain claims require different types of evidence.  Not all claims need numerical or statistical evidence, nor could you find numbers for certain claims even if you tried.  However, I believe specificity is always better.  If you are responding to a trend, for example, citing a representative example from that trend is always useful for your readers.  You don’t need to find numbers for how many people have made such a claim because there is no place that would likely compile such data.  So, yes.  Genre and types of claims do make a different, and I think we can all agree on that.

What kinds of arguments do you find convincing?  What types of evidence do you look for?

Krysta 64

Worlds of Ink and Shadow by Lena Coakley

worlds-of-ink-and-shadowINFORMATION

Goodreads: Worlds of Ink and Shadow
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 2016

SUMMARY

Charlotte and Branwell Brontë possess the secret of literally jumping into their imaginary world of Verdopolis, and their sister Emily is tired of being left behind.  Once all three of them, along with Anne, travelled there together as the all-powerful Genii, but now the elder Brontës keep that power to themselves.  Charlotte and Branwell, however, pay a price the others do not see.  Will the four of them ever be able to escape the mysterious hold that Verdopolis has on them?

Review

Worlds of Ink and Shadow works very well as a fantasy novel, but will probably appeal most readers who possess some knowledge both of the Brontës’ literary work and of their biographies.  Inspired by their juvenalia, full of references to their later works, and grounded in the tragedy of the sisters’ mistreatment at a boarding school, the book’s resonances fully come alive only for those who have the ability to catch all the references.  Even without them, however, the story is an engrossing and somewhat spooky read, the kind that will haunt readers as they devour it through the night.

Coakley expertly weaves biographical details of the Brontës’ lives into this fantasy, playing most with their juvenalia but also alluding to Branwell’s alcohol problem, the death of the elder Brontë sisters (Maria and Elizabeth), Emily’s penchant for wild things and dangerous men, and Charlotte’s dismal expectations as an impoverished woman.  I could easily imagine that much of this would make little sense to the uninitiated, especially because we do not now associate the Brontës with fantasy writing and Charotte Brontë receives most of the general populace’s attention.  However, it’s an incredibly fun read for people who love the Brontës, and it never seems stretched or far-fetched. Coakley seamlessly merges the fantastical with real life.

The fantastic side of this story is highly engrossing, featuring the Brontës jumping into the literary world of Verdopolis that they have created.  There the villain Alexander Rogue dissolutely drinks, kidnaps women, and duels with his rival, the heroic Zamorna–a perfect man if he were not such a womanizer.  But it takes much strength for the Brontës to continue to guide the story and at times it seems that the characters might be breaking free.  Might even suspect that they are being played with like puppets.  And soon the world the Brontës thought of as their own threatens to turn on them.

So whether you enjoy the writings of the Brontë sisters or a good fantasy or a good historical fantasy, this may just be the book for you.  It feels fresh and original, avoiding the usual tropes of YA to focus instead on the power of stories and the bonds between siblings.  Hopefully we’ll see much more of Coakley’s work.

5 starsKrysta 64

Classic Remarks: What Shakespeare Play Would You Teach in High School?

Classic Remarks

Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.  Feel free to comment even if you are not officially participating!  This week’s prompt is:

If you were to teach a Shakespeare text in a high school classroom and could not choose Romeo and Juliet, which play would you choose and why?

Logic says that I ought to choose a play like Hamlet, Macbeth, or Othello–a Shakespeare play that has become culturally embedded and that students should be exposed to if they intend to continue studying English literature in college.  However, plenty of colleges still require a Shakespeare course for an English major to graduate and such a course will probably include most of the more famous plays.  Therefore, I would have to choose between Henry V and Cymbeline.

Henry V is, of course, the one history play that most people who read or study Shakespeare will eventually be exposed to, which tempts me to choose Cymbeline–a totally underrated because absolutely bizarre romance that includes a jealous lover, missing princes, a disguised princess, and the descent of an actual god.  I find it great fun, but I have to admit that it would probably make high school students think Shakespeare was more than a little crazy.  Best then to go with Henry V.

Henry V, of course, poses its own challenges, such as the fact that it is considered the last part of a tetralogy and students would get the most out of it if they could follow the ideas of kingship presented in the earlier works, and if they could have met Falstaff in Henry IV Parts I and II.  Still, it works well enough on its own and one can fill in some of the gaps with a brief lecture before reading.

I think students would appreciate a history play in which the protagonist appears (to many) to be a hero.  His youth and his desire to find his place in the world and solidify it might appeal to many.  Furthermore, film versions such as the ones starring Kenneth Branagh and Tom Hiddleston could provide another avenue for students to access the works.  And, of course, the play raises rich questions about kingship, leadership, the way we retell history, etc. for students to discuss.  It might be a nice change from another year of Romeo and Juliet.

Participating this week?  Leave your link in the comments!

Krysta 64

The Secret Keepers by Trenton Lee Stewart

secret-keepersINFORMATION

Goodreads: The Secret Keepers
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 2016

Summary

When Reuben discovers an old watch hidden in the most unlikely of places, he dares to dream that his life could change.   With the money he could gain from selling it, he could help his mother return to school and find a better-paying job.  But soon Reuben learns that the watch hides a terrible secret and that the shadowy figure who rules the city of New Umbra is actively seeking it. Can Reuben and his friends outwit a man who has never been seen?  Or is lights out for Reuben?

Review

Writing a book that would stand up next to The Mysterious Benedict Society was always going to be difficult for Trenton Lee Stewart, but he manages it here with apparent ease.  Immediately he welcomes readers into the story in much to the same way he welcomed them into Reynie’s story long ago.  We have a boy who is a little unusual, but certainly loving, and definitely about to have the adventure of a lifetime.  All he needs now is a team.

Reuben, however, is not a second Reynie.  He is a loner, stealthy, keeping to the shadows.  And he has a mother whom he loves very much and who works very hard to support him–Stewart does not shy away from addressing poverty and how it can affect a family.  His story is different because his main motivations are always how to help and protect his mother.  He’s a good kid.  And readers are encouraged to root for him.

Reuben’s team will be assembled a little haphazardly.  He’s used to working alone and comfortable walking in the shadows.  Still, he meets a watchmaker who comes from another country and somehow worked her way from poverty to a modest little shop.  He meets a young, redheaded girl who believes in daring and honesty.  And he finds himself protected by a man who likes a good fight, but for the right cause.  They are a strange crew, but they work.  And their diversity of experiences is what makes them strong.

Notably, the team’s experiences really are valuable here.  The team has to anticipate and work out problems if they are to succeed in saving the city of New Umbra from a power-hungry man.  Have you ever read a book and wondered, “Why didn’t the characters think of this very obvious hole in their plan?” or “Why didn’t the character just do X, Y, and Z?” or even “Why is the author suggesting that this character is smart when he doesn’t have to do all that much?”  Well, the characters here are really smart, they really figure stuff out, and they always go for the most obvious solution when they find themselves in trouble.  There’s no running forever in a straight line from a boulder they could have escaped by simply turning to the right.  Do you know how engaging a story can be when there are real problems and real answers?  It’s incredible!

Once again Stewart has presented readers with a fun and complex read, one full of sympathetic characters, high-stakes missions, and just the right dash of humor.  Is it too soon to ask him to release another book?  What will we all do until he does?

5 starsKrysta 64

Poisoned Blade by Kate Elliott

poisoned-bladeInformation

Goodreads: Poisoned Blade
Series:  Court of Fives #2
Source: Library
Published: August 16, 2016

Official Summary

Jessamy is moving up the ranks of the Fives—the complex athletic contest favored by the lowliest Commoners and the loftiest Patrons in her embattled kingdom. Pitted against far more formidable adversaries, success is Jes’s only option, as her prize money is essential to keeping her hidden family alive. She leaps at the chance to tour the countryside and face more competitors, but then a fatal attack on Jes’s traveling party puts her at the center of the war that Lord Kalliarkos—the prince she still loves—is fighting against their country’s enemies. With a sinister overlord watching her every move and Kal’s life on the line, Jes must now become more than a Fives champion…She must become a warrior.

Review

Poison Blade picks up right where Court of Fives left off, a somewhat rare event in YA series these days.  Because there was no time lapse between the books, I was able to get immersed in the story immediately and quickly recall the major events from the first installment.  Jessamy’s determination and scrappy attitude drew me in as she continued on her quest to save her family.

Admittedly, the pacing slows in the middle, and there were places I was tempted to skim. I’m not one to always be interested in long, drawn-out descriptions of fights, for instance, when what happens in the fight itself turns out to be irrelevant, and only the actual outcome matters to plot or character development.  I think this book could have been shorter and conveyed the same amount of information.  However, I was interested in the overall plot, especially as the stakes continue to get higher for Jessamy and her family.

There’s also just a hint of character development for many of the characters, main and side, which I would love to see more of in book three.  Jessamy’s father’s new wife is particularly interesting to me, though Elliott focuses a bit more on Jessamy’s sisters. (Who, honestly, are still squabbling a bit more than I find charming.  Sisterly fights are of course realistic, but I seriously wonder if these girls even like each other at times.)  I understand that Elliott might be trying to differentiate them and show that Jessamy doesn’t speak for them all, but there are also characters I find more complex and engaging, and I want to see what they do with the revolution that seems to be coming.

Poisoned Blade has its flaws, but I’ve been giving up on so many series recently, that I think any series that keeps my attention is doing something right. I look forward to seeing what Jessamy gets up to next.

4 stars Briana

The Unwritten Rules of the Blogosphere

Discussion Post Stars

Definitions of what a “discourse community” is  vary and not everyone believes that becoming one is necessarily a good thing.  However, I think the term may be useful here for the idea of the book blogosphere–a place where we communicate together with shared values and assumptions and towards shared goals.  That is, generally speaking, the book blogosphere might be understood to share goals such as: reading and reviewing books, discussing books and their merits, finding and interacting with others who are excited about reading, etc.  And we have to do all those things by communicating in common and expected ways, perhaps by providing an argument and evidence, or by providing a shorthand recommendation through a star rating.  The trick?  Because the book blogosphere is informal and nebulous (Indeed, who comprises the book blogosphere, and do all parts of it share the same goals and values?), the rules remain unwritten.  And yet, to be accepted as bona fide book bloggers, we most likely have to adopt at least some of them.

Simply by blogging for awhile and  by reading discussion posts about what bloggers like to see in other blogs, why they blog, why they follow other bloggers, etc., I have gleaned some of the unwritten rules, which I understand as follows:

  • Book bloggers expect blogs to be presented in clean, orderly ways.  Uncluttered sidebars, easy-to-read text, easy-to-navigate menus, and a professional logo are often seen as markers of a “real” blogger.
  • Book bloggers ought to be blogging for the pure joy of it or for community, not for monetary compensation or a higher page count.  You may want ARCs or wish you could be paid like fashion or food bloggers, but you’re not supposed to suggest as much.  Being paid is seen as suspicious, as if you have become part of a publisher’s marketing department.  Likewise, you may want to see your stats rise, but if you say so, you ought to clarify that you love blogging enough that the stats do not really matter.
  • Book bloggers should be careful they are not seen as argumentative.  Rose Read has written a little about this before, suggesting that bloggers are often afraid to write negative reviews if the consensus on a book is positive.  This rule goes further, however.  That is, bloggers generally seem to expect comments on posts to agree with the post.  Going back and forth too much with an opposing opinion might be seen by some as argumentative.
  • Book bloggers expect some sort of quid pro quo when they comment.  That is, if they comment on your blog, it’s considered neighborly to comment back, if not immediately at least eventually.
  • Book bloggers are not supposed to mention the quid pro quo rule.  We’re all commenting for the love of community, not to get something back.
  • Book bloggers appreciate fewer memes and more discussions.  Memes are generally considered easy filler, but increasing numbers of bloggers seem to appreciate discussion posts (and some reviews) as they provide more complex issues to think about and respond to.

So what do bloggers value?  They tend to value community, friendliness, and rich content–all good things!  But looking at the unwritten rules can also help us to question some of the current standards.  For instance, why is it so bad to receive monetary compensation for writing book reviews?  Does that make Publishers Weekly and Kirkus publications we ought not to trust?  Why can other bloggers make a living out of their hobby but not book bloggers?  And do the current rules of neighborly discourse potentially stifle conversation?  Are we missing out on lively debates because we fear to seem unkind? And how do we feel about potentially being a discourse community, anyway? Does pressure to integrate into the community mean that we lose some of our individualism?

I’m not sure I have answers to all these questions, but they are ones I like to ponder, along with my musings on my rhetorical choices and the reasons behind them.

So what do you think?  What unwritten rules do you see in the book blogosphere and do you feel pressured to conform to them?

Krysta 64