Monday, December 31, 2012

Reading Roundup: December 2012

By the Numbers
Teen: 20
Tween: 6
Children: 4

Review Copies: 6

Purchased: 2
Library: 18

Teen: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
So the premise is  what you'd get if a Lifetime movie did unspeakable things with a Lurlene McDaniel book. But the execution is really that good. The story doesn't so much tug your heartstrings as use your own funnybone to rip them out.
Tween: Agent Q, or the Smell of Danger! by M.T. Anderson
I read this book after a bunch of lackluster experiences, and it was just what I needed. Irreverent, hilarious, and fast-paced, it's like Bond met "Airplane!" and they mainlined a bunch of Pixy Stix.

Children: The Dead Boys by Royce Buckingham
Yeeeep! This is a creepy, creepy book. Twelve-year-old Teddy moves to a new town and discovers that every ten years, a twelve-year-old boy goes missing around the giant sycamore tree next door. And the last disappearance? Ten years ago exactly. Brrrr.

Because I Want To Awards
Robots in Love!: Cinder by Marissa Meyer
Okay, one robot, and that's really an android. I love a fairytale retelling, but sometimes they can twist themselves into so many knots trying to be faithful to the original that it just becames sort of bland. Not so this book.
I Hate You With Every Fiber of My Being, Author: Orleans by Sherri L. Smith
But not, y'know, in the bad way. Step into a New Orleans that's been knocked back to the Stone Age by hurricane after hurricane, and take the ride with tough Fen and sheltered Daniel. Root for them as they brave the dangers of man and nature to try to get a newborn baby over the Wall and to a better life. Fuller review coming soon, when I've recovered from the end. Sob.
I Wish This was Made Up: Trash by Andy Mulligan
Three trash pickers discover a treasure, and a mystery that could change everything in their corrupt Third-World country. This slim novel hit harder because it's made inescapably clear that, while the country and politicians are made up, the same corruption, poverty, and despair exists all over the world.
Who Says History Can't Be Awesome?: Bomb: the race to build--and steal--the world's most dangerous weapon by Steve Sheinkin
Science! Espionage! Betrayal! It's all here, and all true.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Book Review: Mostly Good Girls by Leila Sales

Book: Mostly Good Girls
Author: Leila Sales
Published: 2010
Source: Local Library

Violet is the most conscientious scholar at the exclusive Westfield school, the hardest worker, the long-suffering editor of the world’s most ludicrous lit magazine. Her life revolves around getting into a good college, with all the attendent studying and standardized-test-taking stress that entails.

What saves her sanity is her best friend Katie. They pass snarky notes in class, mock their classmates ferociously, and take on silly projects together. Violet can’t imagine life without her. But things are changing. Katie’s changing, and if Violet wants to keep her best friend, she’s going to have to learn to let go.

The format of this book is an interesting one. Each chapter is almost like a short story or a vignette in itself. They rarely build on the chapter immediately preceding, and they seem to be in the order they are largely due to chronology. But through the course of these cobbled-together bits, you see the slow change in Violet and Katie’s relationship. Which of course is how these things happen, right? The change happens, the crisis or the break or even the separation, and you go, “Where did that come from?!” Then you look back over the last few months or years and go, “Oh. Yeah. There. And there. And I think there too.”

Okay, so this all sounds very Literary and Important and Somber and Meaningful. But I would be doing you a disservice if I let you think that was the book I read, because the book I read was hilarious. Katie and Violet are best friends because they are both whip-smart and utterly irreverent (mostly inside her head in Violet’s case). Their phone conversations alone are masterful in their kookiness.

Poignant and funny, this book has ensured that Leila Sales makes it onto my auto-read list.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Book Review: The Memory Bank by Carolyn Coman, illustrated by Rob Shepperton

Book: The Memory Bank
Author: Carolyn Coman
Illustrator: Rob Shepperton
Published: 2010
Source: Local Library

Hope has always known that her parents were pretty much gigantic failures in the loving and nurturing department. But even she is taken aback when they dump her little sister, Honey, on the side of the road for laughing too much during a long car ride. They tear off, leaving a small child in a cloud of dust, and order Hope to forget her.

Hope retreats into hours and hours of sleep so she can dream of her sister, and leaves real life behind. Then she gets repossessed by the Memory Bank, because she’s been spending so much time asleep that she hasn’t made any new memories.

For the first time in her life, Hope finds love and approval. But still, Honey is out there somewhere, and Hope knows she needs to find her. She has a feeling that the Memory Bank holds the key.

Often with these books, you try to think of other books to compare them to. I knew before I was a quarter of the way through that The Memory Bank was utterly unique. It’s sort of Dahl/Grimm-esque, with the awful parents, but with more gentleness than those. Honey’s story after her abandonment is told almost exclusively in pictures, while Hope’s is told in text. This makes it a very, very quick read. I think I tore through it in about an hour. It's a quirky little book, maybe not perfect for every kid, but the ones who love magnificent flights of fancy with a powerful human underpinning will eat it up.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Book Review: Hush by Eishes Chayil

Book: Hush
Author: Eishes Chayil
Published: 2010
Source:  Local Library

Gittel is seventeen, approaching high school graduation and hoping to be married soon after, like all the other girls in her small Hassidic sect. But as adulthood looms, she starts dreaming of her best friend, Devory, who killed herself at the age of nine.

Gittel knew something terrible was happening to Devory, something she could only escape through suicide, but she wasn’t able to understand or confront it, until now. Now, she knows that Devory was being sexually abused by a family member. But this abuse isn’t the only reason she killed herself. Because what happened to Devory is not nearly so bad as what happened when she tried to tell.

Okay, I’m a latecomer to this book. A couple of years ago, it was all anybody was talking about. I dutifully added it to my list and went about my business. When it turned up as my next read, I picked it up and was absolutely floored by the power and sadness in this story.

Like the adults and teens reading, Gittel is looking at a defenseless child, being victimized and then being told that she is a terrible person for trying to speak out about it. Those kinds of things don’t happen here, people say to Devory, and then later to Gittel. Those are things the goyim (non-Jews) do. You are making it up. You are trying to cause trouble for a good person.


Written by a Hassidic Jewish woman and based on something that happened in her real life, the book doesn’t attempt to demonise or defend Gittel's world. It simply is. She is surrounded by a loving community, but one blind to its own faults. Chayil portrays both the love and the faults honestly, and that makes the story more powerful. It’s one thing to be a repressive cult that systematically abuses certain members. This gets portrayed quite a lot in fiction. It’s quite another to be a group of honest, faithful, imperfect human beings who are too afraid to look at the darkness in their protected bubble, who strap on their blinders and say, “This doesn’t happen here, so that means it didn’t happen.”

It’s not an easy process for Gittel to speak out. It almost destroys her own fledgling marriage. Yet all her life, she has been held to the standard of an Eishes Chayil, a Woman of Valor, who is devout and strong. Now, she knows that to be a true Eishes Chayil, she must rise and speak.

P.S. And then, right after I finished writing this review, this came out in the paper.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Book Review: Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel

Book Review: Dearly, Departed
Author: Lia Habel
Published: 2011
Source: Local library

In the future, a New Victorian society has arisen, hearkening back to the old Victorian ways of manners, social strata, and rigid morality. In the middle of this is Nora Dearly, a girl of middling-high social rank, who still isn't quite over her father's death a year ago. As if that weren't bad enough, she's abruptly kidnapped and taken away to a military base infested with the undead.

The soldiers of Z Company are not, however, the mindless beasts of song and story. As she gets to know them, especially the handsome young captain, Bram Griswold, Nora begins to realize that undead people are still people. They walk, they talk, they laugh and eat and dance and enjoy taking the piss out of their friends, and they can still, she learns, fall in love.

Then she gets another bombshell. Her father is still alive. After a fashion. But he's missing, and the work he's been doing on a zombie vaccine is missing with him. Meanwhile, back in New London, there's a mysterious plague that nobody wants to admit is even happening. And Z Company's living leader, Captain Wolfe, has a secret agenda of his own.

It's going to take strong stuff to avert the zombie apocalypse and rescue her father. Nora may be a New Victorian girl, but she's not that prim, she's decidedly improper, and she's up for the challenge.

When zombies started to be "the next big thing," I decided that it was going to be a hard job to get me to fall for a zombie romance. They're not exactly objects of lust. I mean, things fall off. Possibly important things. Just sayin'.

Well, I'm eating my words. Nora and Bram's romance was convincing and sweet, mostly because both Nora and Bram were strong and active characters in their own right. Nora has a dear friend back in New Victoria that she's trying to reach. Bram leads a company of soldiers and is devoted to Dr. Dearly. There's stuff going on in their lives, and more than that, there's no insta-love. Initial attraction, yes, but it was Bram's treatment of Nora as a rational human being who deserved to be told what was going on that really won her, and myself, over

Okay, so that's the good stuff. Now for the things I didn't love so much. For a zombie/steampunk adventure, the pacing dragged a lot harder than it had any right to do, and this is directly related to my other point: the whole thing is written in first person, even though there had multiple POV characters and plotlines. This means that there were five first-person narrators. This was . . . a lot. I got used to it, but I still found myself floundering when the POV switched, especially when it was between two characters in the same scene.

Overall, I enjoyed this wickedly fun, wickedly funny take on zombie/steampunk adventure. As long as the pacing problem and the POV problem get fixed, I'm ready to pick up the next one.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Reading Roundup: November 2012

By the Numbers
Teen: 15
Tween: 6
Children: 3

Review Copies: 4

Purchased: 1
Library: 13

Teen: Unwholly by Neal Schusterman
Confess it; aren't you a little wary of something suddenly becoming a trilogy when previously it was a stand-alone? This one worked. Schusterman takes everything and everybody from the first book, adds some new twists and characters, and hits blend with gusto. Be warned; there are scenes of slaughter. Not graphic, but it's quite clear that the majority don't just make it out with a couple of owies.
Tween: The Lost Treasure of Tuckernuck by Emily Fairlie
A good old-fashioned school adventure story, with kooky touches (school mascot: Hilda the Chicken!) I thoroughly enjoyed this. Review soon.
Children: The Memory Bank by Carolyn Coman
This hybrid (half text, half story-told-in-pictures) book was lovely and imaginative and unique and if I can wrap my head around it, there may be an actual review soon.

Because I Want To Awards
Scary Teens: The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken
Is two enough to call it a trend? Whatevs; I will. Like Unwholly, this book was all about the adult fear of teenage power. In this case, it's genuinely scary-ass psychic powers. Awesome premise, somewhat uneven execution, but overall, I'll read the next book.
Food for Thought: The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie by Tanya Lee Stone
I had a grand total of two Barbies in my lifetime, but this book was an interesting look at a loved and hated American icon. I enjoyed the history of Mattel, and the evolution of Barbie over the years.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Book Review: Amy and Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson

Book: Amy and Roger's Epic Detour
Author: Morgan Matson
Published: 2010
Source: Local Library

It was supposed to be a simple road trip. A cross-country trek for the purpose of getting the family car from California to Connecticut, carefully charted out by Amy's mother for maximum speed. Still numb from her father's recent death and the sudden changes in her life, Amy doesn't make a peep of protest, even when she's saddled with an unwelcome co-pilot in the person of her mom's friend's college-age son. Fine. Whatever. Someone else to do the driving.

Then Roger suggests a detour. Which turns into a bigger detour. Then they're off the map entirely, and journeying through all the dark places in their own hearts, with nothing to hold on to but each other.

So, this book was not what I was expecting. (I say that a lot in this blog. I like the books that surprise me.) I thought it would be a cute road-trip romp, with hijinks, and maybe wildlife, and definitely smooching. I didn't expect this quiet, reflective book, shimmering with pain, which gets worse before it gets better. (Okay, fine, there was smooching, too, and more. Just in case you were wondering.)

The road-trip-as-emotional-journey metaphor is a classic for a reason. You get out of your rut, you see new things, and of course, you change yourself, so that by the time you get back to your regular life you're able to see it more clearly. While the title references both Amy and Roger, this is really Amy's book. Roger has his own arc--a relationship that ended badly, some closure sorely needed--but Amy is front and center. We see her almost catatonic at the beginning, unable to muster up the energy to care about anything. As they trek on, encountering places and things that were special to her dad, we're treated to flashbacks that slowly assemble themselves into a picture of how Amy's dad died and why she's laboring under so much guilt. We also see her come back to life, learning to enjoy it again and also to accept what happened.

I couldn't decide whether I was disappointed or not by the source of Amy's guilt. On the one hand, she wasn't directly responsible for his death. A car ran a red light and slammed into the car she was driving, with her dad in the passenger seat. In some ways, it felt as if she was blowing it up far too big. On the other, that's precisely what she needed to realize. It was one of those horrible, awful things that happen sometimes. Living, really living, isn't a betrayal of the person you loved--it's a tribute.

I really, really wanted to go on a road trip after reading this book, and also download pretty much the entire soundtrack (chapters are punctuated by mixes assembled by the characters).

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Book Review: Prom and Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg

Book: Prom and Prejudice
Author: Elizabeth Eulberg
Published: 2011
Source: Local Library

As a scholarship student, Lizzie Bennet hasn't had an easy time of it at Longbourn Academy. She's been notified that she's not welcome in ways large and small. But she's going to stick it out, because Longbourn might be a viper's nest of spoiled trust-fund babies, but it's also the only place she's going to get the musical training that she needs and deserves. Still, it's hardly a surprise when arrogant Will Darcy dismisses her after knowing her ten minutes. But it stings more than she expects, and she strikes back with snarky remarks and attitude.

Unfortunately, because their two best friends are dating, they keep getting pushed together. Then he starts turning up even when Charles and Jane aren't around. His behavior is so entirely puzzling that Lizzie starts to wonder . . . is it possible that Darcy might have feelings for her other than contempt? Or are the feelings that have changed just hers?

Pride and Prejudice is my all-time favorite book in the universe, so anytime I see a retelling, I'm compelled to pick it up. It's always fun to see how plot points and characters get morphed into a different setting. This one was enjoyable, if a little clunky in spots. Darcy's interference in Charles and Jane's relationship is completely dropped, for instance, and there are strange moments where dialogue seems to be lifted straight from the book. What works in the 1812 English countryside is a little harder to credit in 21st century Manhattan. But it was an entertaining way to spend an hour.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Book Review: Meant to Be by Lauren Morrill

Book Review: Meant to Be
Author: Lauren Morrill
Published: November 13, 2012
Source: Review copy from publisher via NetGalley

Julia Lichtenstein should be over the moon. After all, she's in London for a class trip. Home of Shakespeare, Big Ben, and culture of all kinds. Unfortunately, she's been paired with obnoxious Jason Lippencott as her buddy, and now instead of spending her time viewing the cultural sights, she has to keep the world's biggest three-year-old out of trouble.

Jason may be the kind of person who will wrestle on the floor of the Tate Modern and sneak out to a party the first night they're in town, but he's at least willing to help her solve the mystery of her secret-admirer texter. Julia's heart is pledged to Perfect Mark (who will notice her one day; really, he will). But that's no reason she can't have a little London fling. Together, they'll discover a whole new side of London, and maybe Julia will discover the one that's Meant to Be.

If I had to characterize this book in three words, it would be unlikely, predictable, and delicious.

Unlikely: Boy, did these seventeen-year-olds get a long leash. One chaperone, and that one incredibly hapless and easy to fool? Hours and hours of rambling around in one of the biggest cities in the world? Okay. I get that some measure of independence was necessary to the plot. But as an adult reading, I was thinking, "Jesus, teacher-woman, you're so lucky none of these kids fell in the Thames or died of alcohol poisoning." We won't even get into the whole lack of jet-lag and the incredible hotel they got.

Predictable: Oh, come on, people. I knew who she'd end up with the moment I read the synopsis. I'm sure you did, too. Have all the romantic comedies ever taught us nothing? I also knew that Perfect Mark was going to be a prick in Prince Charming's clothing, and that Julia would be knocked off her rocker by both these revelations. Not to mention that, by the end, uber-uptight Julia would finally loosen up and learn that the rules don't have to be followed every second. Some details didn't work out exactly the way I thought they would at the end (the mystery texter, for example), but the shape of things was pretty much exactly the way I thought it'd be.

However, my last adjective? Delicious. Sometimes you need something that's pure sweet fluff, and Meant to Be fit that bill. I gulped it down in a couple of hours. Following Julia's roller-coaster ride to realization that the perfect boy is an impossible dream, but a flawed boy can be even better was just the kind of escapist fun I needed.

Also, Jason was a totally believable 17 year old. Sometimes the boys in these books are so perfect you want to hire a private investigator to find out their dark secrets. Jason is obnoxious, often thoughtless, and basically a teenage boy. There's a moment late in the book where I literally thought, "He's acting out."

If you're looking for something fun and sweet to while away the time and leave you with a smile on your face, Meant to Be is just the book for you.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Book Review: Sorta Like a Rock Star by Matthew Quick

Book: Sorta Like a Rock Star
Author: Matthew Quick
Published: 2011
Source: Local Library

Amber Appleton is the self-proclaimed Princess of Hope. She considers it her God-given mission to spread joy and optimism to those that need it. From spending time with a haiku-writing Vietnam vet to teaching English to Korean immigrants using R-and-B lyrics to weekly debates with a nihilistic octogenarian for the entertainment of lonely nursing-home residents, Amber does her best to let her little light shine on everyone else's life.

What nobody knows is that her own life is hardly hopeful. She's living with her mom in a school bus, barely scraping by. Amber's determined not to let anybody know, either. She's doing just fine, after all. Then a horrifying event brings Amber's world crashing down around her. She can no longer spread her message of hope. She doesn't have enough for herself.

But she's forgotten something very basic about hope and joy: they're infectious. They spread. And when you catch it, you want to spread it back, even if the person who needs it most is the person who gave it to you in the first place.

In case you haven't figured it out from that first paragraph, Amber's one wobbly step away from being a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Her first-person narration overflows with verbal gymnastics. Full of optimism, running over with energy, and somehow able to make everybody and I do mean everybody love her, she's almost more quirk than character. What saves her from this fate is the very real darkness and self-doubt that permeate her quieter moments. Even before her mother dies, you have a strong sense that she is putting up a good front, sparkling as hard as she can just so nobody guesses that the darkness and the doubt are there.

I have to also mention the role of faith in this novel.  Amber is openly Christian, but not in the evangelical sense. She talks about Jesus as if he's a personal friend. Not one who'll fix all her problems (so often my problem with evangelical Christianity), but someone who's on her side. Her faith doesn't pull her out of the dark, but it does hold her up for awhile as she goes through it.

Somewhere between Weetzie Bat and Pollyanna, this girl may not be terribly realistic, but she could spread a little hope into your heart too.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Book Review: Leverage by Joshua C. Cohen

Book: Leverage
Author: Joshua C. Cohen
Published: 2011
Source: Local Library

At Oregrove High School, the football players are gods. It's the accepted social order. But Danny and the rest of the men's gymnastics team have decided they're not going to take it anymore. Pranks and bullying escalate until the three football co-captains viciously gang-rape a freshman gymnast, and their victim kills himself.

Besides the gymnastics captain, the only witnesses to the crime were Danny and Kurt, the incredibly talented new fullback that Danny has been building a tentative and unlikely friendship with. They know that they should speak out, but it seems as if the kings of the school hold all the power against them. Can they defeat their personal demons and show the world that everybody, even an athletic god, has to answer for their actions?

In many ways this was an incredibly disturbing book. Given the topic, I knew it would be, but I was unprepared for how intense it was. At one point, I had to set the book down and go do other things for awhile. Not during the rape, as you might think, but shortly afterward, when the football coach is spewing all manner of idiotic filth about the suicide of Ronnie Gunderson, painting him as a weakling who couldn't handle everyday life and his football players as the upstanding young men who will heal the community via football victory. You get a glimpse into how these narcissistic young men have come to believe that they can do whatever they want without consequences, because the adults in their life have taught them that athletic prowess equals moral superiority, which equals untouchability.

For me, one of the finest parts of the book lay in the believability of Danny and Kurt's friendship. After some initial wariness, they enjoy and respect each other for their differences and their similarities.

There's something almost cartoonish about the final showdown, which ends with the three rapists and the coaches who enabled their behavior being literally booed off the field by an entire field full of football fans, but I have yet to decide whether that's good or bad. On one hand, arrests all around might have better fit the serious and terrible nature of the act that was committed. On the other, the depth of that humiliation, in the place where they were so recently gods, might have been the strongest punishment that fate could dole out.

That quibble aside, this was an intense, unsettling, thought-provoking book.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Reading Roundup: October 2012

By the Numbers
Teen: 18
Tween: 7
Children: 7

Review Copies: 9

Purchased: 1
Library: 17

Teen: TIE
Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst
She was supposed to give up her life for her goddess. But her goddess never showed. What now? The core of this book was its amazing main character: Liana's faith and yet her practicality, her strength in the face of the upending of everything she'd ever believed. This is a beautiful and unique book with a setting that I loved. I'll stop gushing now, because the only book that could have rivaled it this month was . . .
Hush by Eishes Chayil
Raise your hand if you haven't heard of this one. Yeah, that's what I thought. Powerful, fascinating for its nuanced portrayal of an insular religious community and its secrets, and what it truly means to be a Woman of Valor.
Tween: Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities by Mike Jung
A superhero fanboy discovers Captain Stupendous's secret identity: he's a twelve-year-old girl. Well, now he is, anyway. And there's a supervillain, and mayhem, plus the usual angst and trauma of being a twelve-year-old. There's just oodles of fun awaiting you in this book.
Children: Me and Momma and Big John by Mara Rockliff
A boy watches his mother work on New York's Cathedral of St. John the Divine, and comes to realize that though her work may be small, the great cathedral couldn't rise without it. A very different look at art and artists, when the individual isn't recognized but their contribution is invaluable to a larger endeavor.

Because I Want To Awards
Consistently Excellent Series is Consistently Excellent: The Hive Detectives by Loree Griffith Burns
This whole series is strong on the science, but this one is particularly good about it, showing how scientists are using the scientific method to formulate and examine theories related to Colony Collapse Disorder, and what the process teaches them even if they don't get The Big Answer to Everything.
No Easy Answers: Fall for Anything by Courtney Sheinmel
Struggling to understand her father's suicide, Eddie falls into a strange relationship with his protege. I really appreciated that this didn't offer one simple thing that made everything better for Eddie, because it doesn't work like that.
Yipppeeee, Finally!: The Crown of Embers by Rae Carson
I've been waiting to read this ever since I devoured The Girl of Fire and Thorns last year. This book is more complex as Elisa struggles with the mantle of ruling that she took on at the end of the last book. The end was a little ARGH but I did love this book.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Sorry Guys . . .

The reading roundup is postponed tomorrow, due to extreme tiredness. Hard to type when your face is flat on your desk.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Book Review: Flutter by Gina Linko

Book: Flutter
Author: Gina Linko
Published: October 23, 2012
Source: Review copy from publisher via NetGalley

Every so often, Emery enters what she calls a loop. Her mind travels to somewhere else. The future, the past, places she's never been in real life. She meets people both familiar and strange. The loops are beautiful, peaceful, and soothing.

Except that while her mind is journeying, her body is having seizures. And after a lifetime of these, Emery's body is starting to fall apart. She's in the hospital 24/7, being studied like a guinea pig by a team of doctors who examine her brain so closely that they can't see her heart. That team includes her own father, who thinks of her as an experiment first and a daughter second. Emery knows that she'll spend the rest of her life here, however long that might be, if she doesn't get herself out.

So she bolts, using a few thin clues to find the places in real life that she's visited in her loops. She finds herself in Esperanza Beach, Michigan, a little town in the Upper Peninsula, and there she meets Ash, a boy a couple of years older that feels awfully familiar somehow. What does he have to do with her loops? Why was she drawn here? Why is she having them? Can she hide from her father as he hunts her down?

Most importantly: can she learn to control her loops--or will they kill her first?

So, this book didn't go quite where I expected. To be honest, I didn't have a good idea where I expected it to go. Aliens? Vampires? Angels? Alien vampire angels? None of those, although I kind of want to read the alien vampire angels book now. (Libba Bray could totally pull that off. Or Sarah Rees Brennan. I'm not picky.) Nope, it's about something entirely different.

Emery is dying. She makes this much clear to us, and also makes it clear that she understands and accepts it. Her body is falling apart, and she feels as if she's wasting what little time she has left. After the escape from the hospital, a strong theme in the novel is Emery trying to live each day as it comes, with a sense of purpose and agency for the first time in her life. She is feeding herself, she's caring for herself, she's seeking out information on a situation that directly impacts her. You can see how this nourishes a soul that's been starved for years.

Ash and Emery's relationship isn't insta-lurve, though they're clearly attracted to each other and just as clearly trying to fight that attraction, for different reasons. Their relationship builds quietly, its pieces set in place as they cautiously open up to each other.

I do have one major quibble, and that's this: Emery's dad is painted as this terrible and ruthless parent who has godlike powers (including heavy pull with national agencies that go by acronyms) and could find her at any time. Really? I had a hard time believing that a teenager's seizures would be a matter of national security, no matter how medically unusual. I found myself believing the much more likely scenario that he was a single father, very worried about his terminally ill daughter, perhaps unable to communicate that worry, and just trying to find her.

That wasn't a huge part of the story, however, and I was able to dive into the rest of it without letting that bug me so much. Was it perfect? No, partly for the dad thing, and partly because the ending seemed a little too perfect and preordained. However, with its themes of life and death and its sweet and understated love story, this book does stand out from the current crop of YA, and for that reason, you should give it a try.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Book Review: The Hidden Gallery by Maryrose Wood

Book: The Hidden Gallery
Author: Maryrose Wood
Published: 2011
Source: Local Library

After some initial rough patches, plucky governess Penelope Lumley has finally gotten her young charges in hand. They've stopped chewing their own shoes, they generally refrain from biting (unless furry hats are involved), and their Latin is progressing quite well indeed. Now they're onto a new adventure: a family trip to London! Penelope is looking forward to cultural experiences galore. Of course, she should know by now that nothing ever goes as planned.

No matter. Along with highly amiable new friend Simon Harley-Dickinson, a singularly useless guidebook, and her own powerful stock of pluck and mettle, Penelope will take on London and the continuing mystery of the children's origins. Maybe along the way, she can even solve a little of her own mysterious past.

I read the first book for the 48HBC a couple of years ago, and enjoyed it immensely. In this one, Wood retains the madcap feel of the first book, and adds a few sparse crumbs to the great mystery of the Incorrigible children. Things are starting to come together slowly, but not so slowly that it's frustrating. I particularly enjoyed Simon, who shares Penelope's most endearing trait of taking the children exactly as they come, without judgement and with a great deal of enjoyment in their company.

Luckily, there is a third book and probably more on the way. They may be raised by wolves, but the Incorrigible children are also irresistible.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Book Review: Princess of Glass by Jessica Day George

Book: Princess of Glass
Author: Jessica Day George
Published: 2010
Source: Local Library

After a childhood spent dancing every night away with her eleven sisters as part of a wicked enchantment, Princess Poppy never wants to so much as curtsey to a partner ever again. It makes life a little challenging when she pays a visit to neighboring kingdom of Breton, but she finds ways to entertain herself at balls and parties, especially when she gets to spend time with friendly and fun Prince Christian of Danelaw.

Then comes the night of the royal ball. Christian, along with most of the men in the room, is strangely ensnared by the mysterious Lady Ella. Only Poppy seems to recognize housemaid and disgraced gentlewoman Eleanora. Only she seems to understand that there's something very wicked going on, and Eleanora may be as much of a victim as the prince. In order to defeat the real foe, and rescue both Christian and Eleanora, Poppy's going to have to face her deepest fears, both on the dance floor and off.

This is a book that so easily could have had the wrong heroine. I spent a great deal of it going, "Oh for Crissakes, Eleanora, grow up." Though she is the Cinderella in this story, she's also whiny, self-pitying, and tends to depend on others to rescue her. It's our good luck that our heroine is Poppy, who is practical, capable, and brave. Having come through one evil plot, she's adept at recognizing the signs and knows that it's going to take more than a pure heart to win the day.

Though marriage and courtship feature largely in the story, I'd characterize this as a tween/young teen title, especially since the relationship between Poppy and Christian isn't so much passionate as cute and sweet. While it's not the best I've ever read, it's an entertaining, fast-paced example of the retold fairy tale trope that I particularly enjoy, with an intrepid heroine.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Book Review: The Quick Fix by Jack Ferraiolo

Book: The Quick Fix
Author: Jack Ferraiolo
Published: October 1, 2012
Source: Review copy from publisher via NetGalley

After the last time, you'd think middle-school private detective Matt Stevens would know better than to do any jobs for juvenile crimelord Vinny Biggs again. And he's not, really. Sure, he's looking into the case of a missing "decorative piece of wood," but only because beautiful cheerleader Melissa Scott asked him first. And the Thompson twins, infamous purveyors of addictive Pixy Stix, are after it too. Vinny was merely the last in a long line.

But as usual with Matt's cases, things go south in a hurry. Melissa is publicly humiliated and sent to the Outs, a social Dante's Inferno. Abandon hope, all ye who enter here. She's unexpectedly followed by the chief hall monitor, and then Matt knows somebody's deadly serious. Combined with blackmail, Pixy Stix, a lot of money, and more questions than one seventh-grader can reasonably answer, it seems like business as usual for Matt.

Then he discovers the "piece of wood" is really a box, and what it contains could mean nothing to anyone but himself. Right?

I reviewed the first Matt Stevens book last year, The Big Splash, and enjoyed it enough to request this book when it popped up on NetGalley. The middle-school experience painted with a wash of tweaked noir conventions wouldn't have been enough for a second go-round, but I really liked Matt and I was curious about the larger mysteries that had been set up.

In general, I enjoyed myself again. Matt is as snarky, thoughtful, and clever as he was the first time. The series-level mystery of his dad's disappearance advances apace. The book-level mystery was somewhat thinner this time, often lost in all the winks at mystery types. And that brings me to the main reason I'm writing this review, which is to work out my own ambivalence toward the hyper reality of this setting.

In my first review, I mentioned: "The Big Splash can't really decide whether it wants to be funny or serious about its own tone." Is it meant to be totally tongue-in-cheek? Perfectly serious? A tongue-in-cheek lens for the always-gruesome middle-school experience? I honestly couldn't say, and I still can't.

The same thing came up for me again, particularly in the substitution of Pixy Stix as an addictive substance. I think it's because I work on a daily basis with kids whose lives are affected by the real thing that this analogue doesn't quite sit right. Imagining their reactions to the notions of mere sugar being as destructive a force as what they see in their neighborhoods and homes rattled my willing suspension of disbelief, and this is a book that really requires a lot of that.

So . . . what's the verdict here? I'm still not sure. Was it well-written? Yes. Matt is a fully fleshed character, as are most of his compatriots, though it often seemed to me that characters' reactions are much more adult in nature than a typical middle-schooler's. Will kids like it and relate to it? I really don't know. I think they'll like Matt, and read on for the mystery and the relationships. But as to how realistic the details of the setting will feel to kids not familiar with the conventions of adult mystery novels and noir storytelling, I have my doubts. If you've read it and think otherwise, please share.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Kidlitcon 2012: The Bloggers Take Manhattan

This past weekend was one of my favorite weekends of the whole year. It was KidlitCon, in which bloggers gather to talk about books, blogging, and the intersection of the two. There's also many hijinx and some drinking of alcoholic beverages.

Every year, a different city is selected and different bloggers organize it, making each KidlitCon a unique experience. This year, it was New York City, and it was put together by Betsy Bird of A Fuse #8 Production and Monica Edinger of Educating Alice.

On Friday, we were treated to publisher previews, which were apparently Monica's brainchild, as well as her blood, sweat, and tears. No word on the proportion of tears to blood and sweat. I attended the Simon and Schuster preview in the morning, and the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt one in the afternoon. I heard about a lot of exciting books coming up, and got a few advanced reader copies to take home. More valuable than that, however, was meeting publisher peeps and talking with them.

At Simon and Schuster, we got the chance to see the research and art that goes into one of Megan McCarthy's appealing nonfiction picture books. She shared with us some of the things she had to do in order to get the pictures and info she needed for her next opus, coming out Summer of 2013. (Hint: illicit photography was involved.)

At the Houghton Mifflin, we discussed Common Core and how books can be used in the classroom. For those of you not in the know, Common Core is the newest thing in education circles. Basically, it's an upgraded set of standards for teachers to plan their lessons by. Of particular interest is that it emphasizes nonfiction reading in language arts, which means librarians get to haul out all the incredibly awesome nonfiction on our shelves. We also briefly chatted about e-galleys vs print ARCs. I was interested to hear that they limit their e-galley distribution just as they do their print galleys, and they were interested to hear that I actually prefer e-galleys.

By the bye, I've since heard from others that they prefer print, so now I'm interested in the topic. How many of you like e-galleys better, print ARCs better, or don't really care as long as you get to read a good book? I may actually do a blog post. Craziness, I know.

On Friday night, the bloggers en masse descended on a midtown restaurant, decimated their sushi bar (Actual quote from a blogger who would prefer to remain anonymous [me]: "Oh, I'll try this one, it's pink!"), and heard Grace Lin speak about her journey from art school to children's-book-illustration. I hear tell that she came into the city with a very small baby and a very large Sasquatch (also in attendance) just to talk to us, and I can't help but feel flattered. We also got the chance to purchase Starry River of the Sky a few days before it was officially on the shelves. If you think we were all over that, you would be right.

Next time: How All The Bloggers astonished Maureen Johnson, and this particular one creeped her out a little bit.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Reading Roundup: September 2012

By the Numbers
Teen: 17
Tween: 7
Children: 4

Review Copies: 8
Swapped: 1
Purchased: 1
Library: 14

Teen: The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan
Like Tender Morsels, this is a complex story of flawed human beings in a supernatural situation, though this book is somewhat more accessible than that one. I loved it but it's not for everybody. Check out the review (linked in title) for more blathering on my part.
Tween: The Encyclopedia of Me by Karen Rivers
This should have felt overstuffed with Issues: biracial character, autism in the family, deceptive friends, identity, etc. Not to mention the quirky structure: written as an encyclopedia, with all the text filed under different entries, this book should have been massively confusing. The fact that it wasn't overstuffed or confusing, and that's it's a breezy, fun, funny read shows how well it's put together.
Children: Attack of the Fluffy Bunnies by Andrea Beaty, illustrations by Dan Santat
Equal parts hilarious and weird, you need this on hand for when your quirkiest young patrons come in.

Because I Want To Awards
Most Eagerly Anticipated: Team Human by Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan
This send-up of the vampire craze has been on my radar for a loooong time. In general, it was worth the wait.
Most Awesome This-Meets-That: Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel
Steampunk meets zombie. True, there were huge issues with the execution, and I may expound on them in a review in the future, but by golly it was a fun mashup.
Most Applicable to Everyday Life: How to Grow Up and Rule the World by Vordak the Incomprehensible (aka Scott Seegert)
Hysterically funny guidebook to becoming a supervillain. Foisted it on a young man of my acquaintance and his mom reports that he adores it. Live in fear, people of Earth. Live in fear.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Book Review: Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan

Book: The Brides of Rollrock Island
Author: Margo Lanagan
Published: 2012
Source: Review copy from publisher via NetGalley

On Rollrock Island, there are no girls, and the women are beautiful, eerie, sad creatures.There's a good reason for that, as they're not women at all, but selkies, stolen from the sea to be the wives of the Rollrock men.

It wasn't always like this. Once there were human women, and human girls too, on Rollrock. Then the witch Misskaella conjured the first sea-wife from a seal-skin, and gradually all the human women left in protest as their men took passive, mysterious selkie wives instead. But the selkie women are not happy on land, even though they submit to their human husbands and take joy in their half-human sons. Will anybody ever have the courage to break the chains that bind them?

This book furnishes a lot to think about. Clearly it's saying a lot to a feminist viewpoint. The men pick a seal almost at random, the witch produces a girl from it, and they give her a name, put clothes on her, and take her home. There's no element of choice, and very little acknowledgement that this might be an undesirable situation for anybody. Yet the men know their wives have no real ties to their land-life, because they lock away the seal-skins that would allow the selkies to return to the sea that is their real home. It's easy to demonize them.

On the other hand, they're ensnared by the promise of easy love and the illusion of owning something mysterious and otherworldly. A selkie imprints on the man who takes her from the sea, totally trusting and dependent. As hideous as this is for the women, you can see how beguiling it is for the  men. Human relationships are tricky, thorny things. How many of us would really (now be honest) turn down the promise of a spouse who loves and pledges to you at first sight?

Not to mention, this is a situation that feeds on itself like a snake eating its own tail. Girls born of the sea-wives can't survive on land, so they're given back to the sea (to be seals, not to drown, lest this be an even darker book). With the human women leaving in disgust and protest, this means that there is no option for a wife and family unless you turn to the witch and ask her for one. Within a generation, this becomes the way things are, and that's much harder to change than an individual outrage.

This is a book that doesn't really have one central character. You could rightly argue that the main character is the community of Potshead itself. It produced the scorned and spiteful Misskaella, who knows what she is doing to the community and keeps doing it anyway because it is her power and her revenge. Yet it also produces Daniel Mallett, the half-selkie boy who becomes aware of the monstrosity of the island tradition and vows to do something about it.

Like Lanagan's previous book, Tender Morsels, this book is full of complexities and terrible human emotions, and no easy answers anywhere. It won't be for everyone, but those who do pick it up and stick with it will find much to think about.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Book Review: Captain Nobody by Dean Pitchford

Book: Captain Nobody
Author: Dean Pitchford
Published: 2009
Source: Local Library

Newton Newman (yes, really) is used to being overlooked. He’s got that nerdy name, after all, and it’s really hard to shine in the shadow of somebody like his older brother, football star Chris Newman. It’s okay; Newt’s used to it.

But then Chris gets knocked into a coma during the Big Game, and all of a sudden, Newt feels more helpless than ever before. A Halloween costume comes to his rescue. Captain Nobody isn’t helpless. Captain Nobody is brave. He does stuff, like foiling robberies, stopping traffic, and preventing suicides. But can even Captain Nobody help an idolized big brother in a coma?

Yep, this is a pretty implausible setup. What helped was that Captain Nobody’s bravery largely stems from Newton innocently wandering or tripping into situations that he doesn’t fully understand, but handles nonetheless. He’s one of those good, decent kids who find themselves in over their heads but gamely start swimming. I remain annoyed with the parents for not only keeping him away from the hospital, but largely ignoring him during the entire ordeal, even though he has questions and fears. I guess I can forgive them because if they had been even mildly attentive, most of the book wouldn’t have been possible.

Monday, September 17, 2012

2012 Cybils News!

I have been doing a secret happy dance for a week. Why, you ask?

Do you need a reason to do a happy dance?

Well, in this case, I actually had a reason, and that reason is because I got asked to be a Round 2 Judge for the YA category! I'm awfully excited about this. Can you tell?

I'll be judging with these other magnificent bloggers:
Maureen Eichner
By Singing Light
Adrianne Russell
The Writer's Republic
Michelle Castleman
The Hungry Readers
Jessica Silverstein
Reading on the F Train

Congrats to all the other judges and the other panels. It's always a fun time, working on the Cybils. 

Nomination period opens up, as always, on October 1 and run to the 15th of that month. Follow the Cybils blog for the latest!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Book Review: The City's Son by Tom Pollock

Book: The City's Son
Author: Tom Pollock
Published: September 8, 2012
Source: Review copy from publisher via NetGalley

Beth Bradley loves London. She runs the streets of her city at night, spreading her artwork with her faithful best friend Pen. But there's another London underneath the one she knows, one where the statues and lightbulbs and the very rubbish of the streets are alive, and powerful.

One night after a terrible betrayal, Beth runs headlong into the magic of her city, in the form of a boy. Not just any boy, mind you. This is Filius Viae, the Son of the Streets, whose mother is the incarnation of the city itself. But the Goddess is lost and gone, and her mortal enemy, Reach, is gaining power.

Beth gets sucked into a power struggle between Filius and Reach. In the process, she discovers the beauty, and the danger, of the city she's always loved.

A lot of books claim to be urban fantasy, and really just mean "chick in leather fighting vampires." This is truly urban fantasy, where the city itself is as wild and weird a landscape as any that George R.R. Martin ever dreamed up. Is there anybody who's ever lived in a city and not believed that it was alive? Not just because of the people in it, but the city itself. Pollock has harnessed that instinctive fantasy, brought it to life, and thrown it into political turmoil as pitched and white-hot as any human war.

The reason I kept picking up my e-reader to finish this book was the atmosphere. Sure, there's a pulse-pounding plot, and yes, Beth is pretty awesome, and true, there's a compelling subplot about her best friend. But truly, it was Pollock's imagination at work, sucking me in. There's something downright magical in his descriptions of sentient lightbulb spirits made of glass, coldly efficient chemical beings, and statues that house living, unwillingly immortal souls.

Not only is every detail of the city imbued with its own animus, there are complex politics at work, making every character or group of creatures a wild card in Filius and Beth's struggle against Reach. For my part, I can't wait to see how everything plays out in the rest of this proposed trilogy.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Book Review:Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan

Book: Unspoken
Author: Sarah Rees Brennan
Published: September 11, 2012
Source: Review copy from publisher via NetGalley

Kami has an imaginary friend. Which is okay when you're four, a little weird when you're seven, and utterly crazeballs when you're sixteen. Unfortunately, Kami is sixteen. She's learned to keep her conversations with Jared on the inside of her head, but despite all sorts of good reasons, she's never been willing to banish him completely.

Then the Lynburn family returns to their brooding mansion on the hill, and the town of Sorry-in-the-Vale gives out a chorus of "DOOOOOOOOOOOM!" The Lynburns were once the feudal lords of the manor, and still have more money and land than any of you, and don't you forget it. But more than land or money, they seem to have some dark power over the town, one that nobody will explain to Kami. Then she meets the ne'er-do-well, juvenile-delinquent Lynburn, who may have killed his own father . . . whose name happens to be Jared.

Kami's imaginary friend is suddenly not so imaginary . . . and maybe not so much her friend.

So you know how when there's an author that you totally fangirl for their first series, and when they start a second one with all-new world and all-new characters and everything, you're a little, "Erp!" because you truly don't know whether it was the premise or the author you were fangirling? Lay down your fears, people, because it's official: I'm fangirling the author in this case.

And I'm fangirling the author for almost the exact same reason: her characters. Kami, of course, the fast-talking, whip-smart girl reporter, and Jared, the brooding, sarcastic, possibly-evil-maybe-not black sheep. Then there's Kami's dad (I particularly liked his deeply affectionate insults), her bone-lazy best friend Angela, her new sexpot gal pal Holly, all people that you'd willingly spend a lot of time with, just to hear the repartee. The "good cousin," Ash, the villains and the daaaark mystery were all pretty stock, but that's not really what I was there for.

One of the most interesting little side threads, and one I hope continues throughout the series, is the maybe-maybe-not sexual tension between Kami and Jared. Kami has firmly friend-zoned Jared, while he seems to have a passionate crush on her, and both of these feelings stem from the same source: their close mental link. They've shared everything with each other, since birth, until lines between them have blurred. How can you trust your feelings for somebody who's in your head? Brennan wraps this up with a devastating but weirdly satisfying choice at the end, and ensures that I'm slavering for the next book in the proposed trilogy.

Bouncing merrily between a BBC village soap, a Gothic psychodrama, a Nancy Drew mystery on steroids, and a Cary Grant flick (because Kami at her best was straight out of Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday), Unspoken was exactly what I was hoping for from the next Sarah Rees Brennan book.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Book Review: Every Day by David Levithan

Book: Every Day
Author: David Levithan
Published: August 28, 2012
Review copy from publisher via NetGalley

Have you ever wished you could step into somebody else’s life? This is what A does, every day. Every morning, a new body, a new family, a new life. He could be a boy or a girl, tall or short, fat or thin, beautiful or ugly, black or white, popular or ignored. But none of these lives truly belong to him. He’s just passing through.

With no body or family of his own, he’s made an art form of not affecting other people’s lives. He tries to live the day he spends in their bodies as they would have lived them. He doesn’t take anything for himself, because he knows the life and relationships aren’t really his--just on loan.

Then he meets Rhiannon and falls in love. For the first time, A is willing to upend his hosts’ lives, just to be with her for a few hours. Then it’s not enough, and A wants to be with Rhiannon for longer. But is it even possible to build a relationship when one lover is a permanent guest?

This has been getting a lot of love, partly because it’s David Levithan, much beloved of the blogosphere. But it’s also because it’s a genuinely good book, a unique premise executed well. As he tells A's story, Levithan takes the chance to reflect on different topics of empathy, gender, and how your outside affects how the world reacts to you, and how you react to the world

A is in a unique position. Because he has been so many different things, carving out his own identity is largely a matter of his moral choices. He has no inborn characteristics that shape his personality. What makes him A is largely his determination to tread lightly on the world and on his hosts' lives. Unfortunately, this also means that all his actions and choices are dependent on what other people think or do--a feeling that many teens, attempting to fit a mold, will empathize with.

His relationship with Rhiannon is an interesting one. After hiding in someone else his whole life, he finally meets someone who seems to see the real A, and he doesn't want to let go of that. (Whether she really does is something you could argue about for awhile.) It comes in conflict with his first rule, but isn't that what everybody wants? For someone to see you? And of course, the first time he breaks his own rule, he puts himself in ongoing danger of discovery, as a host becomes aware that somebody else was controlling him for a day and starts to hunt him down.

Sweet and thought-provoking, this is a book that will linger in your mind. You'll look around at other people and wonder: What does it feel like from the inside?

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Reading Roundup: August 2012

By the Numbers
Teen: 18
Tween: 9
Children: 5

Review Copies: 11

Purchased: 2
Library: 14

Teen: Every Day by David Levithan
I'm hardly the only person to fall in love with this story. Review coming soon.
Tween: Milo: Sticky Notes and Brain Freeze by Alan Silberberg
The comic illustrations may catch the eye of Wimpy Kid fans, but this story about a boy struggling to deal with his mother's death from a brain tumor offers more depth. Best part? How Milo's believable middle-school angst is woven through the grief. Life goes on.
Children: Bones: skeletons and how they work by Steve Jenkins
Okay, this was just plain neat. Jenkins' distinctive art style illustrates this first look at the framework of our bodies. My favorite part was the animal bones he adds, especially the chameleon's.

Because I Want To Awards
Goriest: Shadows by Ilsa J. Bick
I was awfully excited for this book, the sequel to Ashes. I still gobbled it up--fast-paced, dark, and with multiple tangled storylines as we watch the world fall apart--but with a slightly queasy stomach, because holy crap, the gore. Blood spattering everywhere. You're warned.
Would So Have Gotten a Slapped Face in Real Life: Beat the Band by Don Calame
The main character is a 15-year-old boy. He's horny, stupid, and impetuous, and darned if I didn't like him and his horny, stupid, impetuous best friends in spite of all that. Calame is awfully good at toeing that line.
Yippee Sequel!: Super by Matthew Cody
Back when I read the first book, I knew this MG superhero novel was begging for a sequel. Cody spins out the threads that were left dangling from Powerless, and again leaves it in a spot that seems to promise bigger and better things for our pubescent heroes.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Book Review: The Stone Girl by Alyssa Sheinmel

Book: The Stone Girl
Author: Alyssa B. Sheinmel
Published: August 28, 2012
Source: Review copy from publisher via NetGalley

Sethie Weiss cares about only two things in life--being thin and holding onto Shaw. Although they hang out almost constantly, and have sex almost every time, he won't hold her hand in public, he won't use the word boyfriend, and he never, ever lets her know what he's thinking. What Sethie can control is her weight, and she rations out food and calories like a guilty secret, striving to shave off just one more pound.

Through Shaw, she meets Janey, and the two girls become fast friends, sharing everything from SAT tips to vomiting techniques. She also meets Ben, a sweet Columbia student who seems to actually like her. But not everything in her world is looking up. As Shaw slips through her fingers, Sethie gets more and more focused on cutting herself off from nourishment, and everyone else she cares about begins to take notice.

Anorexia is one of those topics that sort of makes YA readers (as in, people who have read the genre for a a long time, not necessarily readers who are young adults) go, "Oh, Christ, this again?" It's a serious topic that's been done to death. Literally, in some cases. The last time I liked an anorexia book, she was a Rider of the Apocalypse. However, in spite of the topic, I snatched this book up. This was because I remembered Sheinmel's first novel, The Beautiful Between, which had all the ingredients and milestones for a very run-of-the-mill YA novel but took the journey in an interesting and surprising way.

In this one, I kept thinking that something stereotypical was going to happen. Sethie would discover that Janey was sleeping with Shaw. (Not even.) She would fall in love with a new boyfriend whose love would make her see what she was doing to herself. (Didn't exactly happen, and good thing too.)  We'll find out that Mom, or society, or Shaw, was All To Blame. (Not hardly. In a lovely bit that showcases the complexity of this disease, Sethie looks at the various pamphlets and articles on anorexia in the school nurse's office and turns away from them, begging them to stop defining her.)

This was a very fast read, and very, very focused on Sethie's inner life. Sometimes it's hard to get a handle on the characters outside of Sethie, but this didn't bother me too much. What I liked was the realistic, complex look at Sethie's disease, the lack of easy answers, and the acknowledgement that the only person who could start to pull Sethie back to health was herself.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Book Review: A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz

Book: A Tale Dark and Grimm
Author: Adam Gidwitz
Published: 2010
Source: Local Library

You've heard 'em all. You've seen the movies. You probably have the Halloween costumes. But do you really know the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm? Really? Are you sure?

Hansel and Gretel were originally a happy little prince and princess, basking in their parents' love. But then their father cut their heads off. They get better, but decide to risk the dark and scary world instead of staying at home.

On the outside, Hansel and Gretel encounter one dark and gory situation after another. As they survive each one by the skin of their teeth, as they're separated and reunited, as they risk death and in one case go to Hell (just for awhile), they become stronger and more capable. But will they ever be able to face the one thing that scares them the most: going home?

In this sometimes funny, sometimes sad, sometimes scary, often gruesome, and always marvellously entertaining book, Gidwitz has stitched together some of the Brothers Grimm's most bloody tales. Having read a few of the originals myself, about the only thing he really changed was to make Hansel and/or Gretel the main characters. I heard a lot of scuttlebutt comparing this to Lemony Snicket, though I have to say it was mostly the authorial asides. Snicket is all about the looming danger that's escaped juuuuust in time, but Gidwitz actually puts his characters through it.

I'd like to hear if teachers have used this as a readaloud, because I think the structure would work for that, and the multiple ending trope that Gidwitz plays with is an interesting springboard for asking kids to think about story and narrative. I think kids will eat up this fast, gruesome ride, and come out of it with a new desire for the fairy tales that they've always encountered in their sanitized versions before.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Book Review: Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead

Book: Liar and Spy
Author: Rebecca Stead
Published: August 7, 2012
Source: Review copy from publisher via NetGalley

Georges (the s is silent) isn't so sure he's going to like his new apartment. It's much smaller than the house he and his parents had to move out of it, and the neighbors are pretty weird. When he meets Safer, the upstairs neighbor his own age, he gets sucked into the other boy's spy games. At the same time, an upcoming unit in school, a science experiment that all the kids say determines your future, is ramping up the torment from the cool kids.

His mom tells him that he has to look at the big picture, not to let the little details distract him. But life is made up of details. Rules. Games. Who makes the rules to your game?

Having read When You Reach Me, I headed into this knowing that there was going to be a story on the surface, and all sorts of things bubbling and boiling underneath. I wasn't disappointed. Though Georges tells the story in first person, the people in his life seem to have something going on that they aren't talking about, including Georges himself.

It's hard to say too much more without ruining the fun of pulling apart the mysteries in this book, so I'll just reiterate something that Safer says when they first meet. A good spy is a good observer. To get the full effect of this book, you have to keep a sharp eye out, for the things said that don't fit. For the things unsaid and you don't know why. This book will turn you into a spy, too.

Monday, August 06, 2012

It's Time for KidlitCon!

Well, almost. In strict accuracy, it's time to register for KidlitCon. This year, it takes place in New York City, September 28-29. This is your chance to meet and hang out with all the bloggers you ever wanted to know, plus a few more. Talk about bloggy topics, books, and blogging about books.

Because it's in New York City, AKA the Big Apple, AKA You Want How Much for That Apple?, they've lowered the price of the conference itself to just 55 dollars. For the whole thing! This includes a pre-con on Friday, with dinner (and special guest speaker Grace Lin!), lunch on Saturday, and naturally the conference itself. If you don't feel like coming to the other stuff (although I don't know why you'd miss out when you're already in New York anyhow), the conference itself is free. Can't get much better than that.

So if you've always wanted to try it out and you've always wanted to visit New York City, consider this your big opportunity. This is the seventh year and I haven't missed one yet.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Book Review: Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

Book: Beauty Queens
Author: Libba Bray
Published: 2011
Source: Local Library

When the plane holding all fifty contestants of the Miss Teen Dream beauty pageant goes down on a tropical island, the odds are most definitely stacked against the survivors. No water, no food, no shelter, and you just can't get a good facial anywhere.

But Miss Teen Dream contestants never say die (well, except for the ones who already did). After a few missteps, they're taking their survival into their own hands, creating shelter, catching food, and battling island wildlife, all while working on their tans and keeping their pageant skills sharp.

But there's more coming down the pike. The beauty queens are about to face off with reality-show pirates, the evil corporation, the megalomaniac dictator with an Elvis fetish, and the weapons system whose override is PowerPoint. You know. Just in case you thought this was going to make any sense at all.

I've been looking forward to this book on the strength of Bray's wild and powerful Printz award winner, Going Bovine, and I wasn't disappointed. It was the same mix of hilarious and heartfelt. She expertly juggles about six or seven viewpoint characters, all with their own individual character arcs. She often does this by pairing them up, playing two against each other to how their differences peel away the glossy pageant personae and find the messy, scaly, warty real girl underneath. To questions on ethnicity to sexuality to conformity to feminism--very often in the same character--the answer comes out the same: nobody fits a category, but they're all extraordinary just the way they're made, and their power comes when they own it.

If you're a plot person, don't read this. If you're into strict realism, don't read this. But if you love wicked satire with just enough silliness to keep you laughing, feminism with some teeth, stories about love and friendship and identity and courage . . .Well, this is the book for you.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Reading Roundup: July 2012

By the Numbers
Teen: 14
Tween: 7

Review Copies: 8
Swapped: 1
Purchased: 1
Library: 17

Teen: Mr. Monster by Dan Wells
Though my library cataloged this in their adult section, I felt like it was a perfect example of a teen book. A very dark and disturbing teen book, to be sure, but with the same themes of self-definition, growing into yourself, and understanding what you're capable of and why that doesn't mean you should do it. In some ways better than the first book.
Tween: Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead
How do you follow up a Newbery winner? With another book that seems simple on the surface, but bubbles with secrets underneath. Review coming soon.
Children: Just a Second by Steve Jenkins
We don't talk about the concept of time a whole lot in children's lit. Oh, sure, how to tell time, but not the way that Jenkins does, recounting various things that could happen in various units of time. I think scientific-minded kids will get a giant kick out of it. And of course the illustrations are stellar.

Because I Want To Awards
Longest Awaited: Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore
Years, you guys. Years. I kept wanting to re-read the others as I worked my way through this book. It's not a flashy, action-packed plot by any means, but this quietly powerful meditation on personal guilt and responsibility, and how a leader must handle them in both herself and the people she leads left an impression.
No Easy Answers: I Am J by Cris Beam
This story of a transgender teen gained points for not having J discover a place where he magically belonged. He felt as out of place in the LGBT shelter as he did at home, and that felt realistic to me. The real focus was not on "how will the world ever accept me" but "how will I ever learn to fit into this skin."
For Lovers of Traditional Children's Lit: What Happened on Fox Street by Tricia Springstubb
There's something very old-fashioned about the feel of this book. I noticed the words "wholesome" and "classic" coming up a lot in other reviews, even though there are themes that would never have come up fifty years ago. I think it's because of the way that Mo is pretty much left to her own devices, seeking out adventure and answers in equal measure. Give this to lovers of the Penderwicks and other modern classic books.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Book Review: Darth Paper Strikes Back by Tom Angleberger

Book: Darth Paper Strikes Back
Author: Tom Angleberger
Published: 2011
Source: Local Library

The Force requires balance. For every good-hearted (if slightly weird) Dwight, there's got to be a nasty and cyncial Harvey. For every Origami Yoda, there must be a  . . . Darth Paper.

It seems like Harvey/Darth Paper's evil schemes will get Origami Yoda/Dwight kicked out of school for good. Tommy assembles another case file to present to the school board, hoping to convince them that Dwight's not a "disruptive influence," but instead someone who has changed the lives of his classmates for the better. It's not looking good . . . but Tommy should remember that a 900-year-old paper alien is always going to have some tricks up his sleeve.

I vastly enjoyed the first book, which I read for 48HBC last year, so this one went right on my stack for this year. It follows the same format in general, short stories about middle-school angst, and just as with the first one, Angleberger hits the nail on the head. The great charm of these novels is that they're not about Star Wars at all, but about the thorny social interactions of tweens, wobbling on the threshold of teenagerhood.

There is a pretty lengthy segment at the end that deals with Harvey, who is slightly more complex than you'd think, and Dwight's eventual fate, but it's still a very quick and entertaining read. You shouldn't have any trouble selling this one based on the popularity of the first.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Book Review: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Book: Code Name Verity
Author: Elizabeth Wein
Published: 2012
Source: Review Copy from publisher via NetGalley

German-occupied France, 1943. A young British woman has been captured by the Gestapo, and after three weeks of torture finally agrees to give up everything she knows. But she does this by relating the story of her friendship with another young British woman, the woman who flew her into France, crash-landed their plane, and apparently died in the wreckage.

Polar opposites on the outside: Julie educated at boarding schools, born into the nobility, reading at Oxford before the war, versed in literature of various languages, can lie her head off while looking you in the eye, versus Maddie, working-class mechanic who fell in love with airplanes when she saw the engine taken apart, who can’t speak a word of anything except English and who is frankly rubbish at anything smacking of subterfuge. But under the skin they’re the same--brave, tough, funny young women, doing their jobs in wartime for the love of their country, family, and friends.

Like Scheherazade, the captured woman spins out her story knowing that when she finishes, her death lies at the end. But how much of her story is true, and how much has this trained British interrogator and spy made up on the spot?

At its heart, this book is a love story. Not in the romantic sense of the word, but in the pure and powerful connection between two friends that goes deeper than mere hearts and flowers and into a place where one friend can ask anything--literally, anything--of the other. It's also a shining example of how a really good unreliable narrator can suck you in. It's very hard to talk about this book without giving away spoilers, but I'll say this: when you realize just how thoroughly the young spy has suckered you, she is so real and vital a girl that you understand why and you're actually sort of proud of how she did it.

I'm writing about this book relatively calmly, but that's because I took a few weeks. When reading, I was completely caught up in it. At one point, I laid it down, buried my face in my pillow, and sobbed uncontrollably, and for the better part of a day I would still get teary-eyed thinking about it. Maddie and Julie became that real to me. This book tore out my heart, stomped on it, then sat down next to me and offered me a cigarette and a very strong drink.

Harrowing and powerful, this is a book you won't forget in a hurry.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Book Review: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

Book: Seraphina
Author: Rachel Hartman
Published: July 10, 2012
Source: review copy from publisher, via NetGalley

A treaty may have ended the devastating human/dragon wars, but it didn't end the enmity between the two species, just forced it beneath the surface. As the fiftieth anniversary of the treaty's signing approaches, a royal prince is murdered, apparently by dragons, and a peace that was fragile to begin with threatens to shatter under the strain.

In the middle of all this is Seraphina Dombegh, the court composer's assistant. She struggles to keep her head down and avoid notice, because anonymity is her only safeguard against the revelation of a devastating secret: she is half-dragon, half-human, and an abomination to both species. Against her best efforts, she keeps finding herself in position and places where she gets noticed, particularly by the good-hearted Princess Glisselda, heir to the throne, and her bastard cousin, Prince Lucian Kiggs, the sharp-eyed and quick-witted head of royal security.

Balanced precariously between her logical dragon side and her emotional human one, Seraphina soon comes to realize that she alone may be the key to keeping this peace . . . or to starting a war.

I read this one way back, and I'm so excited that it's finally being released so I can squeal, "OMYGAW THIS BOOK!" at all my blog readers. I'm not entirely sure I can talk coherently about this book, because there's so much I want to gush over. Seraphina, first. So you know how the Forever Young Adult girls award their BFF charms? I will give all my BFF charms to Seraphina. All of them. Awkward and unsteady in her own skin, yet endlessly practical. Quick on her feet, quick with her wits. I want this girl on my side.

It's quite a trick to write such a fascinating and complex person, much less a second. Lucky for us, Hartman's managed it with Lucian Kiggs. A royal bastard, he's caught inescapably between two worlds, just as Seraphina is, so he has special insight into what makes her tick. While he's occasionally not sure what to make of her, he'll back her up in a split second. Faster. Is there romaaaance? In a bumpy, sneaky, when-did-that-happen kind of way that completely works for these characters, and I'll take that over sparkly-eyed swoons of destiny any day.

I like this one for twisty-turny political fantasy fans, the ones who've finished all of Megan Whalen Turner's books and are begging for more. Beware, though. Give this to them and they will be back within a day, begging for more of Seraphina.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Book Review: One Moment by Kristina McBride

Book: One Moment
Author: Kristina McBride
Published: June 26, 2012
Source: review copy from publisher via NetGalley

It happened in a moment. Maggie was finally taking the dare to jump off the cliffs into the swimming hole, helped (prodded?) by her beloved boyfriend Joey. She was all ready to do it. But then . . . only Joey took the jump, leaving Maggie alone on the cliff. And Joey jumped wrong, bashed his head on the way down, and died before the paramedics arrived.

Maggie is immediately sucked into a quagmire of grief. The close circle of friends that she and Joey shared are barely able to help her, lost as they are in their own sorrow. But as Maggie begins to surface, questions arise with her. Why didn't she jump? Why did Joey? Why does it seem as if he had secrets that so many of their friends knew and she didn't? And why can't she remember the last few moments before Joey took his fatal dive?

Basically, this is a grief novel. It doesn't break any particular ground, though I do like the realism of Maggie's grief, the waves and troughs of it, as well as the slow implosion of the friend group that has suddenly had its center ripped out. I also liked the amnesia aspect, when Maggie's broken heart protected her from the full onslaught of the truth until she was ready to handle it. We all know what really happened before Maggie does, but she needs to come to it gradually. No argument there.

Why I'm writing this review . . . Go away, spoilerphobic. There are spoilers here.

I'm starting to realize that endings are actually pretty darn important. Well, I always knew they were important, but the capacity of an ending that doesn't quite work to ruin the whole book is mind-boggling. I was really liking this book, until the end. Because what happens is that Maggie discovers the Big Secret: that Joey had been cheating on her for a long time with their friend Shannon, and their other friend Adam knew all about it. This is not itself a horrible thing, as far as the story is concerned. Clearly as far as Maggie is concerned, it's pretty bad. It's also unfortunate for this group of friends, which falls apart under the strain (and gets unrealistically patched up at the end), but what follows is what drove me nuts.

One of the themes of the book is that Joey wasn't perfect. He was a fun, engaging kid, but he was so far from perfect. And yet Maggie loved him. A lot of people loved him. To me, that was a good place to leave it. That was a great place to leave it. Nobody's perfect, after all, and part of your first love story is coming to terms with that, in one way or the other.

Except it didn't end there. At the end (the real one) we find out that everything that was ever good about Maggie's relationship with Joey was false. Everything. He stole it all from somebody else. Specifically, from Adam, who has had feelings for Maggie for a long time.

So the end of this book is not about coming to terms with Joey's flaws. It's not about Maggie understanding that she had loved an imperfect boy, one who made mistakes but died before he could grow up and make them right. It's not about learning to forgive somebody who's not around anymore.

Instead, Maggie simply writes Joey off as unworthy and transfers all her love to Adam. This is the boy who kept secrets in order to spare her (which anybody knows makes it much worse in the end), who constantly pushed her away when she tried to reach out to him, who chickened out on ever expressing his feelings, and yet he is held up as the worthy one. I think he even used the words "I deserve you," which set off my ranty feminist a-girl-is-not-a-prize rage.

The worst part is how completely unredeemable Joey becomes. By the end, he has no positive qualities whatsoever. You can't figure out why Maggie loved him, why Shannon (the Other Girl) loved him, or even why Adam cared enough to keep a promise to him. You finish the book wondering why you spent all that time grieving with Maggie when he so profoundly wasn't worth it.

I can recommend maybe 3/4 of this book. You'll have to tell me what you think of the end.