Thursday, June 26, 2008

Book Review: Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier

Book: Wildwood Dancing
Author: Juliet Marillier
Published: 2008

Five sisters live a quiet life with their merchant father in Transylvania. Tati is the beauty, Jena the sensible one, Paula the scholar, Iulia the butterfly, and Stela the cosseted baby of the family. But these sisters have a secret. Every full moon, they escape not only their father's house, but the entire mundane world, stepping into the world of faerie for an all-night ball with magical creatures.

Jena thinks that nothing can disturb their secure world, but things start to fall apart when their father travels abroad for his health. All of a sudden, her male cousin Cezar is forcibly taking control of her responsibilities and initiating witch hunts for the faerie creatures that cross over into their own world. As if that's not bad enough, Tati has fallen in love with Sorrow, one of the Night People that even the denizens of faerie fear. But things can always get worse . . .

As Jena fights for herself and her sisters, long-buried secrets will come to the surface, and the fallout will affect not only the five sisters, but their entire valley.

Upon closing this book, I literally clutched it to my bosom and heaved a deep sigh. This book owes more than a few storylines to the fairy-tale tradition. The villain is deliciously hateable and the touches of magic and mysticism aren't overdone. Meanwhile, sensible, courageous Jena anchors everything in reality and humanity.

I was actually quite glad that Marillier added a second love story to that of Tati and Sorrow, who were sweet in a Romeo and Juliet kind of way, but not enough to get my emotions involved. Maybe I'm an evil troll, but I don't believe in love at first sight. Jena and her beloved (psh, like I'm gonna tell you who it is! Read the book!) have to fight their own demons to win each other.

Marillier weaves multiple fairy tales and fairy-tale traditions together in a lush tale of secrets and lies conquered by the truest thing of all, love.

PS I just found out there's a sequel, Cybele's Secret, which will be available in the States in September '08. It features Jena's scholarly younger sister, Paula. Eee!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Who Wears the Shining Armor?

Leila at Bookshelves of Doom alerted me to a scintillating conversation over at Guys Lit Wire about the meaning of heroism for boys in YA novels--specifically as heroism applies to gender roles.

That sounds pretty high-falutin', doesn't it? Apparently the spark that set off this particular discussion was a Glenn Beck interview with Ted Bell, author of Nick of Time. In the interview, Beck and Bell both lament the lack of heroic boys these days, asserting that it's been too long since boys acted like boys in a book--which seemed to boil down to rescuing the girl instead of being rescued.

Yep. There's a logic problem there.

Aside from the overgeneralization and the staggering ignorance of current YA lit, since when is heroism dependent on your chromosomes? Since when do you need to be surrounded by weak women to be a strong man--or conversely, weak men to be a strong woman? A theme in much of YA and children's lit is about finding the inner hero--not the hero as compared to someone else, whatever their gender or yours.

The discussion, by the way, is not about the book itself. The book sounds like a lot of fun. It's the points made in the video about boys and girls and who should do the saving and who should wait to be saved. It's only a couple of lines, but the implications are sobering.

In the comments, Colleen herself points out that
waiting for a hero is not a way to survive; it's often a way to get dead. So how helpful is it to present literature where the boy comes in to save the girl as what authors (and readers) should aspire to? It's beyond fantasy - it's something that has never been true or helpful in any regard.

Boys need books with brave characters and so do girls. What a wonderful world we would be in if they could learn to see the value in each gender.

Incidentally, I was watching this video embedded in Guys Lit Wire. Right next to it, on the sidebar, was a blurb for Alan Gratz's marvelous Hamlet/noir mashup Something Rotten: a story about a young man trying to fight the villain, save his (male) friend from insanity, and generally pursuing justice in the best way he knew how. It just sort of underlined the hollowness of their assertions about the emasculating nature of literature for teen boys these days.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

I Concur

. . . as I usually do with the Unshelved Book Club strips that concern books I've read. Today's is about everybody's favorite walking, talking, magical skeleton with a snarkalicious preteen sidekick, Skulduggery Pleasant, and the book thereof.

I know it seems like that's a pretty small category, but seriously, there are more of those than you'd think.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Attention LiveJournal Readers . . .

. . . you can now add Confessions of a Bibliovore to your friends page by going to this link. Share with your friends, share with your enemies, share with the crazy cat lady next door.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled reading.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Laurie Halse Anderson Chats!

If you loved her books (Speak, Twisted, Catalyst), make it your business to drop by the Readergirlz website on Thursday the 19th at 9 PM EST (6 on the West Coast) to virtually meet Laurie Halse Anderson and chatter about her book Prom.

Thanks to the Kidlitosphere yahoo group for the heads up!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Book Review: Looking for JJ by Anne Cassidy

Book: Looking for JJ
Author: Anne Cassidy
Published: 2007

The most notorious child killer in Britain’s history is out of jail. Everyone is slavering for details, a story, even a photo. But Jennifer Jones, the girl who killed her best friend seven years ago, seems to have disappeared. One of the few who knows her real whereabouts is Alice Tully, the girl who used to be Jennifer Jones.

Released secretly six months before the media was informed, Alice has been working to build a life for herself: a job, friends, a flat, a boyfriend, even plans to study history at university. But as the media gets ever closer, this lovely new life seems as fragile as a soap bubble. Probation officers and social workers scramble to plug leaks, but Alice is the only one who can deal with her own guilt and memories. Is it possible to run away from what she did forever? And does she even want to?

The amazing thing about this book is that Jennifer did it. She really did it. Cassidy doesn’t try to fake us out with a monster in the shadows, even another child. Jennifer killed her friend when both were ten years old, and she has to live with the consequences of her actions for the rest of her life. Neither Cassidy nor Alice attempt to excuse or explain, yet Jennifer’s memories make the event plausible, even understandable.

Cassidy juxtaposes pre-murder memories of Jennifer’s life with her vain, neglectful mother and present-day scenes of Alice’s carefully built life crumbling around her. The actual murder isn’t shown until about three-quarters of the way through. Much of what pulls you through the book is morbid curiousity about what she did and how she did it, and then if she can possibly save the life that she’s worked so hard to build.

The ending is both disappointing and hopeful, if such a thing is possible. Read this book for a thought-provoking story of consequences and how close we all are to being monsters, if only for a moment.

Another Game to Make You Smile

After spending close to 50 dollars to fill up my itty-bitty car, this game made me happy.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


I have awake since about 4 am, a combination of stomach upset and stress from a work situation, both of which are enormous amounts of fun, I can assure you.

Since I was up anyway, I decided to watch all the links and videos on my Bloglines that I can't watch at work because a) the library computers don't have flash and b) for some reason people don't respect a librarian who is giggling like an idiot at the reference desk. Yeah, I don't get it either.

Anyway, here's a few happy-making things.

1. This book. Eeee!

2. Gallagher Girls 3 has a release date. True, it's in 2009 (June 9, to be exact), but it's only 363 days away!

3. You know you want to spend most of your morning playing this. You're welcome.

Monday, June 09, 2008

48-hour Challenge Wrap-Up

Started: Saturday, 7:20 am
Finished: Monday, 12:16 am

Total Books Completed: 11
Total Books Given Up On: 1
Total Pages: 2843 (2793 if you don’t count the fifty pages I put in before I could put that one book down)

Oof, you guys. I’m tired. I feel like if I tilt my head too far all the words will run out my ears and splash on the ground. I’m need some mindless TV, like, stat. Suggestions?

Hey MotherReader, we should totally do this for charity next year.

ETA: Click here for all my reviews.

Book Review: All We Know of Love by Nora Raleigh Baskin

48 Hour Challenge Book 11
Started: Sunday, 11:04 pm
Finished: Monday, 12:16 am

Book: All We Know of Love
Author: Nora Raleigh Baskin
Published: August 26, 2008

Four years, four months, and fifteen days ago, Natalie’s mother stopped speaking midsentence and walked out the door. Today, Natty is on a journey to find her, hoping she can answer all the questions she left behind.

Along the way, she’ll meet several other people--her seatmate, a girl in a bus station, a waitress at a roadside diner--and we’ll get to hear a snippet of their stories that shows Natalie’s not the only one searching for answers.

On picking up this book, I didn’t mean to finish it all in one go. I trust Baskin to give good book, but I was tired, I’d decided this would be my last book of the Book Challenge, I wasn’t even sure if I would finish it or go back some other time. But even as I practically had to break out the toothpicks to keep my eyes open, Natalie’s story caught me. From the ins and outs of her mother’s departure to the soul-sucking relationship (seriously, you’ll want to smack Adam several times) that Natalie must understand in order to escape, Baskin weaves a compelling narrative about the need for understanding and love. The snippet stories of love lost, found, unrequited, returned, twisted, and redeemed will reassure readers that the search for love in all its forms is a universal one.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Book Review: Dead is the New Black by Marlene Perez

48 Hour Challenge Book 10
Started: Sunday, 9:14 pm
Finished: Sunday, 10:26 pm

Book: Dead is the New Black
Author: Marlene Perez
Published: September 1, 2008

When the head of the cheerleading squad comes back from break dressed all in black and carting a coffin, Daisy Giardano's not the only one to think something's a little strange.

Her mental alarms start really clanging, though, when she hears about the mysterious death of a young girl--mysterious because there's no apparent cause of death. It's as if someone, or something, just sucked the life right out of her.

Is it possible that Samantha Deveraux is a vampire?

This book works hard at being Veronica Mars meets Charmed meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and the plot is a decent enough, if somewhat overcrowded, result. (There are a number of elements that could and maybe should have been spread out through the two promised sequels.)

However, there's nobody in the book who's a strong enough character to match the fast-paced storyline. Although it's a first-person narration and there seems to be plentiful backstory, I never felt as if I got to know Daisy well enough to understand her actions or motivations. There were a number of other characters who could have used some fleshing out, too: the ex-friend and (supposedly) Mean Girl Samantha Deveraux, the old friend turned boyfriend Ryan Mendez, even Daisy's family.

Still, if Perez can round out her characters some, this has the potential to be a fun supernatural mystery series.

Book Review: My Mother is a French Fry and Further Proof of My Fuzzed-Up Life by Colleen Sydor

48 Hour Challenge Book 9
Started: Sunday, 6:46 pm
Finished: Sunday, 8:57 pm

Book: My Mother is a French Fry and Further Proof of My Fuzzed-Up Life
Author: Colleen Sydor
Published: 2008 (There is some dispute about this. Amazon says July 10, the ARC says September. Either way, I have no cute cover image for you.)

Eli Smyth's mother is the source of everything annoying, frustrating, and downright enraging in her life. What can you do when your own mother dresses up as a french-fry for a living, and that's not even the weirdest thing she's ever done?

Eli just keeps her head down and her shields up. By this time, she figures she's hardened to anything her mother can bust out. But that's before the parental units make the big announcement . . . they're pregnant. Euwwwwwwwwwww. How could Eli's mom do this to her? And how will she ever survive?

What with the introduction to Eli's quirky, free-spirited mother on the first page, I was expecting this to be much more of a comic novel. Don't get me wrong; it's funny. Eli's sarcastic, snarky voice is definitely one of the strengths. But Sydor also delves deep into the mother-daughter relationship to pull out not-so-funny-in-fact-painful moments that can either destroy this bond or make it even stronger. Expect a couple of tears in your eyes by the last few pages.

Book Review: Pandora Gets Jealous by Carolyn Hennesy

48 Hour Challenge Book 8
Started: 4:46 pm
Finished: 6:14 pm

Book: Pandora Gets Jealous
Author: Carolyn Hennesy
Published: 2007

Pandora's got to bring something really cool to school tomorrow. Not the same old stuff she's always shown before, like her father Prometheus's liver in a jar. It's got to be way special. So she goes hunting around her house and finds a box.

Yeah. That box.

Before you can say, "What were you thinking?" the box is open, the evils of the world are loose, and Pandora's in big trouble . . . not only with her dad, but also with Zeus, Lord of Olympus. She's got six months to capture everything that got loose, or else . . . well, we won't even think about the or else.

This book (the first in what is clearly a seven-book series) is awfully fun for those familiar with Greek myths (both well-known and obscure). Real sticklers will note that Hennesy adjusts the myths for her own benefit, but overall they're good changes. Even kids who don't get the sly jokes (like Pandora's crush Tiresias being turned into a girl) will enjoy this action-packed story of a plucky girl faced with a seemingly impossible task.

Book Review: Into the Wildewood by Gillian Summers

48 Hour Challenge Book 7
Started: Sunday, 1:22 pm
Finished: Sunday, 4:06 pm

Book: Into the Wildewood
Author: Gillian Summers
Published: June 1, 2008

Keelie’s finally gotten used to being the daughter of a elven Tree Shepherd who lives at Ren Faires. But the newest Ren Faire is giving her some trouble. For one thing, her dad says she has to pay off the insanely expensive (but fabulous!) boots she just bought, and the only job available is that of Jill-of-the-Faire--basically doing all the things nobody else wants to do.

For another, there’s something bad wrong at this Faire. The trees are attacking, there’s a unicorn that her dad forbids her to go near, elves are getting sick, and somebody’s behind it all. But who? Keelie had better find out soon, or her own dad will be next on the list . . .

There’s a lot going on in this book: Ren Faire kookiness, mystical adventure story with environmental overtones, a father and daughter getting to know each other, a girl carving her identity between two worlds. Sometimes too much. I felt as if I was playing catch-up a lot, reading between the lines, probably because this is the second in the trilogy. If you’re interested, start with the first one, The Tree Shepherd's Daughter.

Book Review: Knucklehead by Jon Scieszka

48 Hour Challenge Book 6
Started: Sunday, 12:00 pm
Finished: Sunday, 12:35 pm

Book: Knucklehead: Tall Tales and Mostly True Stories About Growing Up Scieszka
Author: Jon Scieszka
Published: October 2, 2008

Once upon a time, there were six brothers, growing up in the wilds of Flint, Michigan. The second brother would go on to become a best-selling author and the nation’s first Children’s Literature Ambassador. But first, he’s got to get through Cub Scouts, Catholic school, and Halloweens dressed as a giant bunny . . .

This is the kind of book I want to use in book talks all the time, because there are so many passages that beg to be used. Like, “I learned how to cook because I like to stir oatmeal more than I like to pick up dog poop.” Of course, any knucklehead knows there’s more to that story.

Like most author autobiographies, it’s also fascinating to see the influences that went into his work. More a collection of vignettes than an autobiography, this book is perfect for any fan of Jon Scieszka’s who wanted to know where he gets his ideas. Be prepared to learn that truth is way stranger than fiction, and also to laugh like a loon.

Book Review: The Shape of Water by Anne Spollen

48 Hour Challenge Book 5
Started: Saturday, 11:36 pm
Finished: Sunday, 9:35 am

Book: The Shape of Water
Author: Anne Spollen
Published: 2008

After her mother’s death, Magdalena drifts through her life like a soap bubble, numb to everything. She attempts to feel by setting fires and watches a family of fish bicker inside her own head. Meanwhile, outside, life is moving forward. Will Magda move with it, or be left behind and lost?

I kept reading this novel not because I wanted to find out what happened, but because I couldn’t pull myself out of Magda’s surreal inner life. With grief novels like this, you can usually tell that the protagonist will recover eventually, but I was truly in doubt about Magda’s fate until about three-quarters of the way through. By the end of the novel, however, I started to see the girl that Magda must have been, coming back again in flickers of snarky comments and an awareness of other people. On the last page, things are not sunny and happy by any means, but I have what I didn’t have at the start: the feeling that Magda’s going to make it through.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Book Review: Band Geek Love by Josie Bloss

48 Hour Challenge Book 4
Started: Saturday, 9:02 pm
Finished: Saturday, 10:52 pm

Book: Band Geek Love
Author: Josie Bloss
Published: July 1, 2008

It’s Ellie’s senior year. She’s the trumpet section leader and she has a fabulous solo. It’s the year she’s been looking forward to her entire high school life. It’s going to be perfect.

That was the plan, anyway.

Suddenly, she’s got a gorgeous sophomore boy in her section that she can’t seem to stop thinking about. Plus, her two best friends are acting weird all of a sudden, and if those aren't bad enough, the boy who wrecked her life back in freshman year is back in town, screwing with her head again. What happened to her perfect year?

In a lot of ways, this is a risky book. For one thing, band members are not exactly the most revered creatures in any high school. (Trust me; I went to a school with a nationally honored marching band and they were still considered the ragingest geeks to walk the halls.) Bloss not only brings us intimately into this world, she feels no need to normalize it. This is not a book where the band geek becomes accepted by the popular crowd. It takes place wholly within the world of marching band.

Then there’s the younger-man storyline. I think most authors would have gone for Nathan as Ellie’s love interest instead of Conner. Sometimes I had a hard time believing that a high-school sophomore would be as mature and sensitive as Conner, but his musical background (can’t say more than that for spoilers) helped me believe he would be different than the expected fifteen-year-old.

Finally, there’s Ellie herself. To be perfectly honest, that’s where I had the most trouble with this book. She’s extremely difficult to like: closed-off, rigid, hard-shelled, paranoid even. True, Ellie acknowledges all these faults in herself, and sure, I know why she acts and feels the way she does, but it didn’t stop me from being exasperated at some of her dumber or nastier moments.

Still, this is a realistic, intriguing story about a young woman experiencing a seismic upheaval in her self-perception, and becoming a better person for it.

Book Review: Jump the Cracks by Stacy DeKeyser

48 Hour Challenge Book 3
Started: Saturday, 7:21 pm
Finished: Saturday, 8:12 pm

Book: Jump the Cracks
Author: Stacy DeKeyser
Published: 2008

On a train bound for New York City, fifteen-year-old Victoria watches as a mother not much older than herself neglects and mistreats her toddler. But the final straw comes when the other girl stashes the little boy in the train restroom and disembarks at Penn Station. This just happens to be Victoria’s own stop, where her father was supposed to meet her and, in the latest of a string of broken promises, doesn’t show.

Furious for herself and for the toddler, Victoria makes a decision. There’s nobody she’s willing to give the toddler back to, so he’ll just have to stay with her. And he does . . . through several states, a number of phone calls and a growing news blitz about the Penn Station kidnapping.

As the hours pass and the mess gets bigger, Victoria--who always thought she knew the right answer--is forced to realize that there may be no such thing as the exact right answer, but only the nearest cousin, and finding that answer is the most difficult thing she’ll ever have to do.

Reading this book was like being dragged through by a team of wild horses. Really. I couldn’t put this sucker down. I sympathized--a lot--with Victoria’s feelings. I don’t think anyone who works with children on a day-to-day basis will fail to understand. There are always those families you wince to watch, knowing that there’s only so much you can do. But like Victoria comes to understand, it’s not as simple as, “If he were with me, he’d be better off.”

Give to this to teens who like realistic novels about shades of grey and difficult questions with even more difficult answers.

Final note: From the temper tantrums to the unpredictability to the nanosecond attention spa--oo, shiny!--DeKeyser’s portrayal of an active two-year-old is spot-on. Kudos on that, and on a great first novel.

Book Review: Carpe Diem by Autumn Cornwell

48-hour Challenge Book 2
Started: Saturday, 12:51 pm
Finished: Saturday, 6:54 pm

Book: Carpe Diem
Author: Autumn Cornwell
Published: 2007

Vassar Spore has her whole life planned out. Valedictorian, brilliant academic career, PhD, Pulitzer . . . Then her summer plans (AP English class, Advanced Latin camp, and a SubMolecular Theory course) are derailed when her grandmother blackmails her parents into sending Vassar on a trip to Southeast Asia with her.

It's exactly as bad as she expects. From one hair-raising adventure to the next, life with her free-wheeling grandmother is the antithesis of the measured, predictable existence she prefers. How will she ever survive this summer?

And what is the Big Secret that induced her parents to let her go?

This book was a blast. Vassar is the ultimate fish out of water, both as an American abroad and as a hyper-meticulous planner forced to live in the moment. Although some may find the characterizations a little over the top, Vassar's adventures demand larger-than-life characters. Check this out for a fast-paced, funny ride through exotic lands.

Book Review: Love (and other uses for duct tape) by Carrie Jones

48-hour Challenge Book 1
Started: Saturday, 7:20 am
Finished: Saturday, 12:30 pm

Book: Love (and other uses for duct tape)
Author: Carrie Jones
Published: 2008

Spring of senior year is not easy on Belle. While she's looking forward to the end of high school, she's not looking forward to all the changes. Still, she thinks she has a handle on her life, at last, even if her boyfriend won't have sex with her. Then Belle's best friend Em comes to her with earth-shattering news.

Things are changing fast. Will Belle know what to hold on to and what to let go?

I really liked that Belle wants to have sex, and her desire is presented as a part of life and love, rather than as some indicator of low self-esteem or emotional problems. Neither is Em's pregnancy held up as a cautionary tale: "Ooo, look what happens to dirty girls!" It's a consequence, but it somehow doesn't feel like a punishment.

However, I did feel like this book ended too fast. I would have liked to know what happened with Tom and Belle, and Shawn and Em, who were left in between moments. Still, it's a thoughtful book about relationships, changes, and dealing with both. Although it can be read by someone who hasn't read the first one, try out the prequel anyway, Tips on Having a Gay (ex) Boyfriend.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

48-hour Challenge!

So MotherReader's Third Annual 48-hour Book Challenge is just around the corner. I'll be reading and blogging from 7:00 Saturday morning to 7:00 Monday morning. I have to work Saturday, so that day will be light, but watch out Sunday!

I'm also going to do something special for myself. I have a stack of ARCs (most of them from BookExpo) sitting on my floor, tripping me every time I try to go to the downstairs bathroom. This is inconvenient in any number of ways, not least being that I haven't gotten to read them yet.

So I proclaim this weekend ARC-a-palooza. Some of them aren't actually ARCs, some are probably out already, but hey, it's so snappy.

See you this weekend!

Book Review: Jazz Baby by Lisa Wheeler

Book: Jazz Baby
Author: Lisa Wheeler
Illustrator: R. Gregory Christie
Published: 2007

Jazz Baby is the luckiest baby in the world. See, Jazz Baby was born into a musical family. Mama, Daddy, Brother, Sister, Cousins, Aunties, Uncles, and even the neighbors get in on the fun as Jazz Baby bops.

This is the kind of books that makes you want to dance while you listen, or sing while you read. I could practically hear the rhythm and tones in my head, reading it to myself. It feels as if there should be a CD with it, but on reflection I'm kinda glad they didn't go that way.

My favorite spread featured music notes mimicking instrumentalists (trust me, it makes sense when you see it). Try this one out on active little ones. It'll even work around bedtime, because in the last few pages the mood mellows and the very last, "Oh yeah . . ." begs to be whispered just as you turn out the light.

Monday, June 02, 2008

The Tragicall Historie of Rusty, Prince of Baseball

It's Monday. You need a funny. Here ya go.

ETA: Take a drink for every play you can name from this video.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Reading Roundup May 2008

By the Numbers

Total Number Read: 67
Teen: 13
Tween: 14
Children: 26
Preschool: 25

Teen: Long May She Reign by Ellen Emerson White
Tween: The Case of the Bizarre Bouquets by Nancy Springer
Children: The Lemonade War by Jacqueline Davies
Preschool: Baby! Baby! by Vicky Ceelen

Because I Want To Awards
Most Warped: Ugly Fish by Kara LaReau (This was almost Longest Awaited, but this is a warped book, y'all. In a good way.)
Most Danceable: Jazz Baby by Lisa Wheeler
Most Heroic Foodstuff: The Magic Pickle Vs. The Egg Poacher by Scott Morse
Most Sobering: In America's Shadow by Kimberly Komatsu
Most Unsettling: Looking for JJ by Anne Cassidy
Longest Awaited Book That's Not Ugly Fish: Starcross by Philip Reeve