Friday, May 28, 2010

The 48-hour Book Challenge is Only 168 Hours Away!

This is my holy schnikes post. Talking to a friend today, I realized we only have 168 hours until the 48-Hour Book Challenge starts. Egad!

I've decided to do Books I Told Someone I'd Read (need snappy title stat!). These are the books that were given to me or that I acquired, promising somebody I'd read them. It could be the author, a publicist, or the LibraryThing Early Reviewer program. I just hadn't gotten around to them yet, so I'm setting aside the 48-Hour Book Challenge to read them all at once. Woohoo!

As to my Greater Good cause, I think I will donate to First Book. This is an organization that provides new books to kids in low-income populations. I don't think anybody needs an explanation for why I want to support this cause.

If you haven't already planned the whole weekend of June 4-6 around the 48-Hour Book Challenge, do it now!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Cybils Book Review: Fire by Kristen Cashore

Book: Fire
Author: Kristen Cashore
Published: 2009
Source: Review Copy from Publisher

In a kingdom called the Dells, there are monsters. Not trolls or giants or many-toothed freaks, but preternaturally beautiful versions of regular animals--turquoise rabbits, glittering gold cats, green raptors--that can bewitch their prey so the helpless victim doesn't even mind being eaten. The most dangerous of these is Fire, the only human monster left.

All her life, Fire has dreaded her own power. With a combination of her stunning looks and psychic coercion, she can make almost anybody do almost anything. She's seen the results in her own father, Cansrel, who played sadistic puppetmaster to a weak-willed king. Fire has gone as far as possible in the other direction, flat-out refusing to exercise her monster gifts. She covers her hair and stays closeted at home. But after the excesses of Cansrel and the previous king, the Dells is rapidly falling to pieces. In the civil war to come, Fire must take control of her powers, and all their capacity for good or evil, in order to save her own homeland and the royal family she has grown to love.

I first read a galley of this in April of last year, and obeyed the strict instructions on the front not to review it or talk about it or even acknowledge by the flicker of an eyelash that it existed. (Not all of those were printed on the cover, by the way.) I probably didn't need to be so coy, or so quick about giving it away. Gah. When it landed on the Cybils finalist list, I went "Whee!" because I'd been wanting an excuse to read it again and review it. Sometimes you read a book, get swept away in the first experience, and gloss over to yourself any flaws in the book. Thankfully that was not the case with Fire.

Fire is terrified of her own power. She has some special skills, some things that make her extraordinary, but it's all genetic. She never asked for nor sought anything that makes her special, yet it's all here and she has to deal with it. The first step toward accepting what she is and owning it comes in a marvelous scene where she deliberately distracts the monster raptors that might otherwise attack the royal party. (Monsters love nothing so much as other monsters' blood.) Where before she's always hidden herself inside, under layers of cloth and stone, she runs outside basically shrieking, "Come and get me!" It's a moment of bad-assery that I didn't expect from our wary and self-contained protagonist, and one that foreshadows her future bad-assery when the occasion calls for it.

As with Graceling, it's impossible not to read this from a feminist viewpoint. It's especially noticeable in the portrayal of how others react to Fire. Either they are helpless before her or they loathe her as a wicked creature. Most refuse to take responsibility for their own response, putting all the blame on her for simply being what she is. Small wonder that Fire is so afraid of herself at the beginning of the novel. Brigan is one of the few who sees the imperfect but courageous young woman beneath the glamor, which is why he works for me as a love interest.

Although Fire is seventeen, this is to me one of an increasing number of true young adult novels--not "YA" meaning 12-18, but books about the experience of moving away from the teen years and into adulthood, maybe 18-24. These are related to teen books in that the main character's identity is often very much in flux, and there are lots of growing pains, but rather than being a teen they are expected to be adults. Subtle but telling difference, that. The political underpinnings of the book--this lord betraying that lord, the heave and ho of a burgeoning civil war--is another factor that ages the target audience, and is probably best suited to previous readers of high fantasy. This isn't just about Fire coming to know herself, it's about the fate of an entire land and people.

Bitterblue, the third in the Dells series, is in the process of being written. Write quick, Kristin Cashore!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Links Ahoy

Yes, children, once again it's time for me to clean out my Google Reader stash.
  • How well do you know Judy Blume? Take the quiz and find out. Thanks to 100 Scope Notes.
  • Shannon Hale, author of Rapunzel's Revenge and Calamity Jack, defends the place of graphic novels in literacy. I may copy this out and hand it to parents who slap the manga out of their dismayed child's hands. Y'know, to keep myself from slapping them.
  •  And in the oh-my-God-just-freakin'-awesome column: Everything about this enthralls me. The original Tenniel. The use of the iPad's accelerometer to control the illustrations. The music! It almost makes me want to buy an iPad. 

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

48-Hour Book Challenge - Now It's Official

I was going to put "Now it's personal," but really, isn't it all?

Go sign up for MotherReader's 5th annual 48-Hour Book Challenge! Now, today!

I really am looking forward to this. It's a marathon, for sure, but last year I derived enormous support from comments, both those left on my blog and the ones I left on other blogs. I also followed the Twitter hashtag religiously. And it felt so good to tally up my reviews and comments to come up with a final total donation for the American Cancer Society.

So join in the fun!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Top 100 YA Books of All Time

Lo, in those days, Persnickety Snark sent out a command. And she spake thusly: "Thou shalt gather thy top ten YA books of all time, and thou shalt send them unto me. Eleven shalt thou not gather, neither shalt thou gather nine, excepting that it be on the way to ten. Twelve is right out."

And then did the Bibliovore wail, and gnash her teeth, and tear her hair, for it was a grievously difficult command. But finally it was done, and sent in, and hopefully, the Internet shall see it and know that it is good.

1. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton - I'd heard about this book for years, but never read it. When I finally picked it up, I thought, It can't be that good. Nothing can be that good. OH BUT IT IS. Bobby and Suzy can just go suck their malts, because this is real life--doing your best with what you've got, which frankly ain't much, and navigating the unholy mess that is the adult world, where people hate each other or love each other for the way they comb their hair.

2. Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume - Okay, this one's a little young. But I think that older teens can still read it, because it takes the biggest questions about growing up and looks at them head-on. Who is God? Who am I? Am I really ready for this grown-up stuff? And best of all? Blume gives us no answers, just the reassurance that it's OK to ask the questions.

3. A Ring of Endless Light by Madeleine L'Engle - Another Big Question book. Why do people die? And how is it possible to live with joy knowing that it will all end someday?

4. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson - The high school ostracism, the slow reveal of What Really Happened, the healing through art . . . another book that couldn't possibly be as good as people say it is, and yet it is.

5. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins - Just like the Outsiders, this is about doing what nobody ever have to do and facing what nobody should ever have to face, and coming out the other side. (BTW? TEAM PEETA.)

6. The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler - Being yourself when yourself isn't good enough for your family takes a special kind of courage. I especially loved that she didn't lose any weight but got buff instead. Kick-boxing girls FTW!

7. The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot - Actually, the whole series, with all its tangle of embarassments, false starts, mistakes in love, and the agonizing process of constantly redefining friendships, relationships, and self. Which proves that just because you're a princess doesn't make your life perfect. Far from it.

8. Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr - The slut/stud dichotomy, the fracture of family, the daddy's little girl syndrome . . . I could talk for hours about this book.

9. Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist by David Levithin and Rachel Cohn - This is the kind of thing that could only happen when you're a teenager. And yeah, it's not likely to happen to a lot of teenagers, but falling in love almost at first sight, the trippy Alice-in-Wonderland odyssey through New York's indie music scene, the weird friends . . . it could only happen once in your life, if it happens at all.

10. Boy Toy by Barry Lyga - Another one about sex and power, and the messed-up way our society approaches it.

And since I only remembered about it a couple of days before it was due, this was all those books I could think of right away. (And there you have a summary of my entire scholastic career.) I know I'll see the final list and shriek, "OH MY GOD HOW COULD I FORGET THAT ONE?!?!" several times.

What's on your top ten list?

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Book Review: Julia Gillian and the Art of Knowing by Alison McGhee

Book: Julia Gillian and the Art of Knowing
Author: Alison McGhee
Published: 2008
Source: Swapped

Julia Gillian seems to have the perfect life. She has an excellent name (of which she always uses the full version), two loving parents, a great dog named Bigfoot, interesting friends like her upstairs neighbors and the adults in her neighborhood, and lots of skills and talents.

But not all things in Julia Gillian's life are perfect. She's scared of the green book that she started reading, and immediately stopped when it became clear to her that the dog (so like her own Bigfoot) would die. She hates that her parents are taking classes all summer and can't do all the summer things they usually do. She's frustrated that she can't conquer the claw machine in the hardware store and get the meerkat doll that she's longed for.

More and more this summer, she has to resort to her fierce raccoon face mask for courage. She's always been able to predict what will happen next, but all of a sudden she seems to have lost what she calls "the art of knowing." The world seems to be closing in around her with doom-laden headlines. Is this really what growing up is about?

What a quietly marvelous piece of work this was. What really made it stand out for me was that Alison McGhee respects her main character's fears. There is never a Pollyanna moment, with Julia Gillian realizing that "Oh, things aren't so bad!" Because they are. The scary headlines are real, the dog does die in the green book, and you can fail to capture that elusive meerkat doll. None of that is going away, and very little of it isn't as bad as it seems. The only thing to do is recognize your own fear and press forward in spite of it.

This isn't an action-packed book. It takes place mostly within Julia Gillian's head, as she contemplates and works through her various feelings in reaction to a summer that is not the summer of her dreams. The reflective child, beset with their own fears and misgivings, will recognize her as a soul sister immediately. In this tender book, McGhee ably captures the way that very small things can loom large in the mind of a sensitive child. There are two more Julia Gillian books in the works, and I wouldn't miss them for the world.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Reading Roundup April 2010

By the Numbers
Teen: 22
Tween: 10
Children: 12

Review Copies: 1
Swapped: 9
Purchased: 2
Library: 28

Teen: Out of the Pocket by Bill Konigsberg
Outed by surprise, gay quarterback Bobby Framingham attempts to keep his feet and make his way through a storm of media and personal attention. I loved the more nuanced reactions of his friends and teammates--some raging homophobia, some immediate acceptance, and everything in between.
Tween: Lucky Breaks by Susan Patron
Our Lucky does some growing up. I appreciated Patron's willingness to have Lucky do things out of jealousy and spite, and then deal with what comes next.
Children: Best Friends and Drama Queens by Meg Cabot
Meg Cabot may know just about everything about the workings of the female brain, at any age. Allie Finkle, half tomboy and half girly-girl and all real, runs headlong into a sophisticated new classmate. If you're betting on Allie, you'd be right.

Because I Want To Awards
Actually Made Me Forget He Was a Freakin' Bear: Ice by Sarah Beth Durst
Awesome-tastic Nonfiction: The Lincolns - A Scrapbook Look at Abraham and Mary by Candace Fleming
Very, Very Familiar: Geektastic - Stories from the Nerd Herd edited by Holly Black and Cecil Castelluci
 Man, I So Knew I Was Gonna Cry: Ways to Live Forever by Sally Nichols
I Had No Idea Bubbles Were So Useful: Bubble Homes and Fish Farts by Fiona Bayrock