Saturday, December 31, 2011

Reading Roundup: December 2010

By the Numbers
Teen: 17
Tween: 0
Children: 1

Review Copies: 9
Library: 8

Teen: The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson
I was really poking along, dissatisfied with everything I was reading, but this puppy brought me out of my reading slump, and hard. I spent one whole morning on the couch wrapped in a blanket and Elisa's world. From the sweet, smart main character to the colonial-Mexico-influenced world to the descriptions of the food to the natural, organic inclusion of faith and struggles with same . . . my god, did I love this book.

Because I Want To Awards
That . . . Just Ain't Right: Glow by Amy Kathleen Ryan (Spoiler ahoy! Skip down if you don't like that sort of thing)
Talk about a disturbing scenario. When girls are kidnapped from one colony ship to another and get their mother-flippin' eggs harvested against their will . . . well, I got a little green. Also, Ryan gets points for the moral complexity of her characters, particularly the two guys. I wasn't overfond of the Religion Ebil! theme that she seemed to have, but the next one is going right on my list, because I want to see if anybody is salvageable.
Lushest Setting: Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
Even the scenes in the "mundane" world took place in Prague, and the way it was described made it as fantastical in its otherness as the world of seraphim and chimaera.
Psychic? or Crazypants?: The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin
I do love me an unreliable narrator. The titular Mara spends most of the book haunted by hallucinations--or are they?--of the three kids who didn't escape death when she did. Or did they?? Even by the end, you're not entirely sure just how much of her choo-choo has jumped the tracks. Also, I kept looking at that cover. Is he pulling her down under the water, or holding her up? Guarantee your answer will change as you read.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Cybils Reflection

For the past three months, I've been reading furiously, casting anxious sidelong glances at the towering stack of books that awaited me, checking my fellow first-round-panelists shortlists to see what I needed to read in order to argue for or against in the final showdown. Now I'm done, and as I tweeted yesterday, it feels awfully strange not to be reaching for my next nominee.

Books nominated: 172
While I've judged second round before, this was my first year on the first-round judging panel. While I always knew there were a lot of books nominated, I wasn't prepared for the reality of such a huge stack facing me. Now, granted, I always have a huge stack facing me. I generally have 900-some books on my TBR list. But they're not all big thick novels, and I don't have to read them all within three months. Luckily, nobody expects or even thinks it possible for one person to read Every. Single. Book that's nominated. This is why we have several panelists, so every book can get covered. I'm proud to say that our panel managed to have at least one reader for every single one of those 172 books, and all but a few of them had two readers.

Books I read: 79
Now, to be fair, a goodly numbers of those I read before the start of the Cybils, in my usual reading. Many of those were acquired from NetGalley. (Thanks, guys!) I also got review copies in both paper and digital form from publishers and authors, as well as stacks and stacks of them from my lovely local library. Not only am I a patron, I'm also an employee! So I was able to stalk my hold list with doubled efficiency.

Books I put down unfinished: 24
I did my best to give books more of a chance than I would normally, but some of them just didn't work for me and I had to put them down. Some of those books were much beloved of my fellow panelists, even. See above re: number of panelists. Different tastes.

First Cybils book I read: Tyger, Tyger by Kersten Hamilton
Coincidentally, this was also one of the first NetGalley books I ever read, partially on my Nook and partially on my phone (because my Nook got lost on a subway; long, traumatic story with an unlikely happy ending). This was October of a year ago, as in 2010. When it got nominated, I had to stop and think about whether it was even eligible, because I'd read it so long ago.

Last Cybils book I read: The Monstrumologist: Isle of Blood by Rick Yancey
This was one of those books that wasn't on my list originally, because I couldn't finish the first Monstrumologist book, and I sort of put it off. It was a dark, horrifying book, dripping with blood and other liquids best not reflected upon. It was a great book and now I know who to recommend it to when they ask. I also know not to eat chips and salsa during autopsy scenes. Urgh.

Book I was happiest to see nominated because it gave me an excuse to bump it far up my list: The Demon's Surrender by Sarah Rees Brennan
Alan! Alan, Alan, Alan. Sigh. You'll have to give me a moment.

Book I now carry in my mental go-to list: Blood Red Road by Moira Young
"Oh, you liked the Hunger Games? Here. Take it. Take it, I say."

Book I never would have read otherwise: White Crow by Marcus Sedgwick
Actually, this honor belongs to quite a number of books that I added to my TBR list when they were nominated, but White Crow was about on par with The Isle of Blood for the kind of dark and gooey creepiness that I tend to avoid.

Book I'm most glad I read, because at least I can discuss it now: Divergent by Veronica Roth
Seriously, for a time, every other reader's advisory question seemed to start with this book. (The others started with The Hunger Games and Twilight.) Having now read this, I have a better feel for what these kids want and I can say with complete assurance, "Oo, have I got a book for you!"

Biggest surprise: Angelfall by Susan Ee
I fell splat in love with this small-press e-book. A world in flames, evil angels, a tough girl in tougher circumstances . . . holy wow. There may be a review. You never know. I could get wild and crazy.

What now?
Ever since about mid-November, I've promised myself that after the judging was done, I'd take a break from not just reading at the Cybils pace, but even reading at my regular pace. Currently, I'm dawdling my way through a book that has nothing to do with the Cybils or even kidlit. It feels nice, and I'll be ready to get back to my regular reading soon. I've been knee-deep in ghosts, vampires, witches, magic, dystopias (oh, so many dystopias), and the like ever since the beginning of October. I just checked my stack, and I'm not reading anything with even a whiff of anything supernatural or sci-fi for the next two weeks.

And who did I vote for in that last, pitched battle? Ha, you don't think you're going to catch me that easily, do you? You'll have to wait for the announcement on January 1, just like everyone else. But I can tell you that it's a whiz-bang list, and I can't wait for the reactions.

Thanks and kudos
Thanks to Sheila Ruth, our most excellent and fearless panel leader, and my fellow panelists, Tanita Davis, Steve Berman, Sommer Leigh, Hallie Tibbets, and Vivian Lee Mahoney, who made being part of this panel so much fun. Thanks also to all the other Cybils judges, because I now know exactly how hard we all work. And to Anne Boles Levy and Kelly Herold, whose idea this was in the first place, I had a wonderful time and I'd do it again. Just give me . . . oh . . . about nine months to recover. Sound good?

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Reading Roundup: November 2011

By the Numbers
Teen: 20
Tween: 1
Children: 3

Review Copies: 3
Library: 20

Teen: Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake
It's a story as old as time . . . boy meets ghost, ghost rips boy's tormenter in half (um, literally), boy falls for ghost, breaks the curse that makes her all murdery, and then discovers that they've both got much, much bigger problems. Bloody, creepy, and altogether a thrill ride with some pretty solid romance.

Just like last month, I'm reading Cybils nominees almost flat-out. So you just get a Teen standout this time.

Because I Want To Awards
Most Welcome Change in Tone: Bad Taste in Boys by Carrie Harris
I can only call this a zombie romp. After weeks of reading Deadly Serious Novels about the Fate of the World, a light-hearted and hilarious story about a girl genius up against a zombie virus was just what I needed. The plot is so thin you can see through it, but you're having too much fun to care.
Slept with the Light On: White Crow by Marcus Sedgwick
This story of two girls discovering the hideous secret underneath a decaying seaside town scared the bejeezus out of me. I didn't want to get out of bed in case something grabbed my ankle. Brrrrr.
Thank You, JLB!: Trial by Fire by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
This story of a female alpha werewolf who's struggling to keep her pack together is densely packed with terrible choices, political power plays, and conflicting family loyalties, but not a whisper of luuurve triangles.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Reading Roundup October 2011

By the Numbers
Teen: 25
Tween: 2
Children: 2

Review Copies: 3
Library: 23

Teen: Blood Red Road by Moira Young
I've been keeping notes for myself on my Cybils reading. Many of them say things like, "Interesting premise. Flattish characters." The notes for this are a gibbering mess of "OMG! The setting! The characters! The violence! The tone! Saba! Jaaaack!" So. Yeah. There's that. I also got a colleague to read it. When she finished the book, we basically squeed at each other until our voices gave out.

Since I'm reading all Cybils nominees all the time, and read so few tween or children's book this month, I'm just going to stick to a Teen standout and be done with it.

Because I Want To Awards
Swoony McSwoon: The Demon's Surrender by Sarah Rees Brennan
Finally, the nerdy, sweet, competent, honorable compulsive liar got some loving. What I've been personally waiting for since the moment I met him in The Demon's Lexicon.
So Many Points Over Book One: Shift by Jeri Smith-Ready
Remember how I half-loved, half-hated the first book last month? Much better this time around. Mostly because the character I hated most got the big poof.
LizB, I Will Never Doubt Your Taste Again, Not That I Did Before: Chime by Franny Billingsley
I have never thought of LizB as a gusher; quite the opposite. So when she posted this glowing review of Chime, I sat up and took notice. When I read it, I said, "Oh. That's why."

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Book Review: Shine by Lauren Myracle

Book: Shine
Author: Lauren Myracle
Published: 2011
Source: ARC from the publisher, via NetGalley

He was left for dead at the gas station where he worked, tied to a pump with a gas nozzle shoved in his mouth and the words, “Suck this, faggot” scrawled on his bare chest. It’s clearly a hate crime, but the local sheriff doesn’t seem that interested in finding the culprits, preferring to blame it on out-of-towners. Cat knows there’s more to it than that, and for the sake of the friendship she once shared with Patrick, she’s going to uncover it.

As she struggles to understand what happened to her one-time friend, Cat starts to come out of the timid shell where she retreated after an unthinkable act years ago, and find the strong girl she was always meant to be.

If anthropologists were to put together a portrait of American culture from literature, they might come away with the idea that the South was a region of small towns with nice folks who all go to church on Sundays, bake casseroles and cobblers regularly, and in general take care of each other. Also, there’s that nasty Civil War thing that nice folks don’t talk about it because it’s all behind us. Shine would knock them for a loop.

Honey, this ain’t Paula Deen’s South. This is a South riddled with poverty, prejudice, drugs, and secrets, all feeding off each other in a messy stew. At the center of it all is a girl who’s learning that, for better or worse, she’s the only one in control of her identity.

Honestly, I’ve had this review half-written since May, and never felt like it captured everything I felt about this book. I’ve decided to call this enough. This one is acquiring some notoriety right now, due to the National Book Award kerfuffle. But I knew when I read it that this book was something special. Whatever happens with the National Book Award, this is a book that’s going to stick around for awhile, both in your head and walking out the door in kids’ hands.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Not just for Gardens

I recently weeded my to-be-read list. Weeding is something librarians do every so often to keep the collection fresh and new so the good stuff actually circulates. Weeding motto: “Nobody actually needs a book on the space program from 1968.” (Oh-ho-ho. You think I jest. I really did weed this very book from the collection at my first library. It had been a long time since they’d discarded anything.)

I’m a bit of a packrat by nature (she says from under the massive stacks of books and yarn), and I’ve started to apply weeding principles to my everyday life. If you don’t wear it/use it/even remember why you own it anymore, it’s time for it to go.

I decided to apply this to my TBR list. It was famously (because I wouldn't shut up about it) around 1400 items long, and I was reading books that I’d added to it close to two years ago. All of this wasn’t so bad, except I was doing more plowing than reading, just getting through this book so I could get to some of the good stuff further down the list. The list should be made up of good stuff, I decided.

So I got drastic. Using LibraryThing’s collections option, I tossed everything into a collection called “Weeding” and then went through it, looking for stuff that made me go, “Oh, but I WANT to read that!”

Any book I recognized right away, remembered the premise, and remembered who had recommended it to me got saved. Any book by auto-read authors like Sarah Dessen, Elizabeth Scott, Philip Reeve, Scott Westerfeld, etc, got saved. Anything else, I just left in the weeding collection. The few things where the title, the cover looked promising or I vaguely remembered a little about it, I studied and hemmed and hawed and clicked through to Amazon to read the premise and a few of the professional reviews. And you know what? About half the time, I left it in the weeding collection. Some of them were very good books, I’m sure, but it wasn’t something that I particularly wanted to devote several hours of my life to. I know about it, and from a professional standpoint, that’s enough.

I did one pass through my list. This took several days, during snatched moments in the middle of other things. Then a second pass, slower, more focused, and with no distractions, to catch the things that I might have missed the first time. There weren’t many. Then I gritted my teeth, screwed up my courage, and deleted everything that was left.

In all, I cut my list down by 572 books. I discarded trendy books that fell off the radar two days after publication. I discarded Very Weighty Tomes that won Very Weighty Awards, very nice for them I’m sure but I just don’t wanna read it. I discarded books whose inclusion on my reading list made me wonder what I’d been smoking.

A huge amount were picture books. I don’t feel so bad about that, because as the children’s librarian, I see every picture book that comes in, and I keep a stack of the more interesting ones at my desk for when I have the time to read them. (I hear that derisive laughter from the ALSC committee. It happens. Sometimes.)

I look at my list now and it looks like a list of books I actually want to read. Which is really the whole point.

How often do you weed your piles or your reading list?

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Reading Roundup September 2011

Sorry about the late posting on this one, guys. Second month in a row, too! Blame it on Cybils excitement. Have you nominated your favorite yet?

By the Numbers
Teen: 17
Tween: 6
Children: 9

Review Copies: 7
Purchased: 2
Library: 17

Teen: Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey
Can I be Ellie when I grow up? Sarcastic, resourceful, and severely lacking in histrionics, she forms a solid core for this novel's wild flights of fantasy, drawn heavily from Maori mythology. And it's a standalone book! Heavens!
Tween: Alchemy and Meggy Swann by Karen Cushman
The thing I like best about Karen Cushman is her ability to make a downright unlikeable girl into an engaging and sympathetic main character, without milquetoasting her in any way, shape, or form. Also, she excels at bringing a historical world to life. Meggy Swann is prickly, defensive, and rarely nice, but you'll want to hang out on the mean streets of London with her.
Children: One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
Okay, it's set during the 70's, in the heart of the Black Panther movement (joining Kekla Magoon's equally stellar The Rock and the River in representing that little slice of American civil rights history), but first and foremost this novel is about the difficult and fraught mother/daughter relationship. I actually had a very hard time deciding whether to put this one or Meggy Swann in the Tween category. It's an older kid's book, verging on Tween, as is Meggy Swann. Argue with in the comments if you like.

Because I Want To Awards
Enjoyed This Much More Than Expected: Hearts at Stake by Alyxandra Harvey
Oh, jeez, more vampires! But the two girls at the center of this vampire novel are hardly likely to swoon over the fangs. For one thing, one of them is a vampire, and fated to be the vampire queen. The other has been raised alongside vampire boys most of her life, and regards them as brothers (except that one). Entertaining enough to keep the rest of the series on my to-read list.
Loved It/Hated It: Shade by Jeri Smith-Ready
What I loved? The worldbuilding, the mystery lurking underneath, the inquisitive and intelligent main character. What I hated? The "romance." That was not a functional relationship and I resented being asked to care about it.
Worthy Successor to the First One: Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick
Okay, it's not a sequel to The Invention of Hugo Cabret, but the illustrated-novel format means that they'll forever be paired in the brains of librarians. I liked the dual-storyline style of this one, and an insight into Deaf culture means that it should have a place in libraries forever.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Happy News!


I've been sitting on some happy-making news for a couple of days, and now that it's official, I can let it out. I'm a Cybils judge again! I get to judge Round 1 of the YA Science Fiction and Fantasy award! Woohoo!

I'm joining these fine, fine bloggers: 
Sheila Ruth
Wands and Worlds

Tanita Davis
Finding Wonderland

Vivian Lee Mahoney
Vivian Lee Mahoney

Sommer Leigh
Tell Great Stories

Steve Berman
Guys Lit Wire

Hallie Tibbets
Undusty New Books

Okay, enough exclamation points. I am very excited to do this, really, because I always have such fun debating books with other people. It's the English major in me, I guess.

Now I really want to see what you all are going to nominate, starting tomorrow at the Cybils website. Gather up some great books, guys, because I'm ready to read!

(Okay, I was lying. One more exclamation point.)

Friday, September 23, 2011

KidlitCon 2011 Recap - Part Two

So, besides panels about new things, the other highlight of this conference was a return to the basic question of book blogging (e.g., why and how). Along with Melissa of Book Nut and Jen of Jen Robinson's Book Page, I had a panel discussion about blogging a mix of older books and newer books. For the purposes of our discussion, we said that "older" meant it was published more than six months ago. While that sounds massively silly, the topic came up at last year's KidLitCon that publishers have a window of three months before and three months after the publication date of a book that seems to be the golden time for the publicity blitz. After that, it's on to the next thing. So six months? Collecting Social Security.

Melissa, Jen, and I discussed how reading and reviewing both older and newer books had their own advantages and disadvantages. Since we were missing the delightful Terry Doherty of The Reading Tub, we invited the audience to jump in just as much as they liked, and they certainly did!  We agreed that while it was exciting to get shiny new ARCs and review copies, often months before they hit the stores, there was a sense of obligation towards the publishers that's missing when you blog a book from ten years ago or even last year. And blogging older books could help you stand out when everyone seems to be talking about the same books. Obviously, there was a lot more nuance to this discussion, but these are some of the core points.

The most interesting thing to come out of that, for me, was some input from two publisher's reps in the audience. There's a feeling around some areas of the kidlitosphere that you can't blog older books because the publishers won't pay you any attention. They stated the opposite. For smaller to mid-size publishers, a fair amount of their stock is backlist. Even for bigger publishers, attention to an author's older book could ramp up excitement for newer titles. Yes, there's not the same publicity push for backlist titles, because they only have so many publicity dollars, but hey, publicity is publicity. Thanks to everyone who came and contributed. I was so nervous about doing my very first conference presentation ever, but I had a blast!

The other great panel I went to was  presented by Kelly Jensen of Stacked, Abby Johnson of Abby the Librarian, Julia Riley of Spine Label, and Janssen Brandshaw of Everyday Reading, on critical reviews. Actually that's a topic that came up over and over throughout the conference, at multiple panels. Critical, by the way, does not equal negative. It simply means reading the book with a clear eye and being honest yet professional in your review. You can call out negative aspects of a book and still have an overall positive review. One of the premier reasons for this is because your readers trust you more if they see you're being honest, rather than posting shiny-happy reviews all the time. I personally only blog about a book when I really have something to say about it, which most often translates into the books I like best. I have to give some thought to how I review after this panel.

The biggest highlight, even more than the panels, was getting to meet people and hang out with old friends. I live-tweeted all the panels I attended, once I got Twitter to behave itself, and struck up conversations on there. I got to meet Roseanne Parry and geek out over the religious themes in Heart of a Shepherd, and in kidlit in general, a conversation that I continued with Anne Boles Levy. I got to chat with old friend Liz Burns and new pals Lisa Song and Sondra Eklund about Battlestar Galactica. I got to catch up with Pam Coughlan and astonish Colleen by bringing out my knitting during our lengthy lunch break. Thanks to Jackie and Colleen for building in lots and lots of hangin' out time to a fairly short conference, by the way. Definitely one of the planning highlights. I even got to even got the chance to buy Goliath two days before the laydown date, just so we could get it signed by our keynote speaker, Scott Westerfeld. Aren't you jealous! He chatted with us all very nicely, even while the fangirl vibes were practically peeling his hair back.

And remember that exchange of Tweets I mentioned in the first half of this post? After playing tourist on Sunday, and doing everything I could to support Seattle's economy, I left on Monday morning and ran into Scott in the airport on his way to his next tour stop. We chatted briefly and then I Tweeted thusly:
Ran into @ScottWesterfeld in the airport just now. Random. #Orwasit #amnotstalkerIswear
Scott's reply/retweet?
This really happened. *alerts security*

Check out the roundup of all the recaps, here at the Kidlitosphere site. If I met you at KidlitCon, I had a great time! If you didn't make and are reading this, green with envy, just know that next year is in New York City. Hope to see you there.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

KidlitCon 2011 Recap - Part One

This is my fifth year attending the annual Kidlitosphere Conference, affectionately known as KidlitCon. Every year is a little different . . . different cities, different attendees, different activities. But I'll tell you what's always the same: getting to meet new friends, hang out with old ones, attending sessions that make me think critically (and not always comfortably) about the way that I blog and review. Most of all, though, this is the one weekend a year I can be sure that I'm talking to people who just get it. They get the blogging thing, they get the kid's books thing, and they have nothing but respect for both.

This year, the festivities went down in Seattle, arranged by Jackie of Interactive Reader and Colleen of Chasing Ray. It's a gargantuan task, and they did a stellar job. The conference was expanded by an extra half-day of panels on Friday before the full day on Saturday. I could go through all the panels I attended one by one, but I think I'll just call out the highlights.

I decided that this year I'd try out new things, and went to two panels on new ways of storytelling and delivering content. The first was on transmedia storytelling, meaning stories told through a variety of platforms. Examples include Patrick Carman's Skeleton Creek series, which mixes a paper book with online videos, and the 39 Clues series from HarperCollins, which blends a book series with card collecting and an online game. The presenters themselves were the creators of the Angel Punk world, which encompasses a novel, a comic book, and a feature film, among other things. The point I came away with was that transmedia is more than just tie-ins; it's using multiple platforms to tell the story.

The second was presented by Mary Ann Scheuer of Great Kid Books, Betsy Bird of Fuse #8, and Paula Wiley of Pink Me. They talked about the brave new world of picture-book apps. Currently the 900-pound gorilla in that market is the iPad, although chatting with Chris of BookDads afterwards, I discovered that the Nook Color also has some picture-book apps as well. These aren't tie-in games, these are the digital equivalent of pop-up books, with activities embedded within the story. To my surprise, it's not confined to the picture-book realm. There were some ridiculously awesome nonfiction titles in the stack, as well as one particularly neat chapter book. It was pretty neat to see how well (or not) publishers had enhanced content without sacrificing story or information. It strikes me that Choose Your Own Adventure would be an ideal fit for this medium (and a quick iTunes check shows me that there are indeed a few Choose Your Own Adventure titles on the market). I'll be keeping an eye on this because I really want to figure out how libraries intend on using them, if they do at all.

Enough for now! Leave 'em wanting more, that's my motto. Up next: more panel goodness, and fun with Tweeting. Fittingly enough, my KidlitCon experience ended with an exchange of tweets. But you'll hear that next time.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Book: Starcrossed by Josephine Angelini

Book: Star-Crossed
Author: Josephine Angelini
Published: 2011
Source: Review copy from publisher via NetGalley

Helen Hamilton has never felt like her face could launch a rowboat, much less a thousand ships. She’s taller than almost everyone she knows, she’s stronger and faster, and yet when she inadvertently calls attention to herself, she suffers debilitating cramps. She just hopes to slide through her senior year without attracting too much scrutiny, and then get the holy hell off Nantucket Island.

But then the Delos family moves to town, and the moment she lays eyes on eldest son Lucas, she feels an immediate explosion of feeling - specifically, utter homicidal hatred. Literally - they try to kill each other, not knowing why. There’s something bigger than everyone at work here, and Helen knows Lucas’s family holds the answers to all the questions she’s ever asked. That’s if she can get close to them without a total bloodbath.

I'm conflicted about this book. Like, srsly, you guys. On the one hand, intriguing premise. Super-powered descendants of Greek gods, living out ancient prophecies? Vibes of the Iliad and the Greek tragedies? Fascinating themes of free will versus destiny? Oh, baby, take me there!

On the other, major Twilight vibes. Maaajor. The awkward and unconfident girl, living with a single father, meets a beautiful boy and his intriguing family, who all tell her she’s the most marvelous thing in the world. (That homicidal thing gets taken care of early on.) Yet the beautiful boy must stay away from her for a nebulous reason that never gets explained until most of the way through the book. There's even, no joke, the watching-over-her-while-she-sleeps bit.

And yet, there was more meat on this book. Helen has good reason to feel like a freak, because she kind of is. She's so much faster and stronger than any normal human being that she has to hold herself back everywhere but home, and eventually, the Delos house. She’s not only adopted into the Delos family, she’s held to their standard. She’s not a cute little pet. This family insists on her learning to defend herself, instead of assuring her that they will defend her. She does take a frustratingly long time to take hold of her powers. Really, sweetheart? I know you're in the habit of backing off, but for cripes sake, we're talking actual people wanting to actually kill you here. Take hold!

You see my conflict? I’ll recommend this for the cool premise, the compelling story, the massively fun shout-outs to Greek tragedy (I know, I'm weird), the intricate interweavings of loyalties and lies, and in the certain knowledge that the Twilight vibes aren’t going to be a problem for many readers. It’s well-written, and now that Helen has taken her life by the horns, I’m really looking forward to the rest of the series.

But if a werewolf enters the picture, I’m outta here.

Monday, September 12, 2011

This Week in Kidlit

Sooooo . . . whatcha doin'?

This is a big week in the Kidlitosphere. Thursday, September 15, is the last day that our beloved Cybils awards are accepting applications for first and second-round judges. I know they have a pile of applications, but a little birdie told me that there are some categories that still really need judges. I've judged for various categories in the past, and it's really an amazing experience. Plus, you get the thrill of seeing how happy the winners are, and knowing you were a part of that. How can you lose?

So that's Thursday. Come Friday, I'll be at the 5th annual (that's right! Fifth!) Kidlitosphere Conference, affectionately known as KidLitCon. It moves around the country to give people the chance to attend. This year, it's in Seattle. I've been to all four previous ones and I wouldn't miss this one for the world. Especially since I'll be presenting. That's right, you get to see me blather on in person, along with Jen Robinson of Jen's Book Page and Melissa the Book Nut. Here's our panel:
One is Silver and the Other’s Gold: A Discussion on Blogging Backlist vs. New Releases, and Why It Doesn’t Have to Be Versus
Four reviewer-bloggers will discuss the different advantages to blogging the backlist and blogging about newer titles, and how having a variety of books strengthens your blog and your voice.

We may be unique in having a panel title that's almost as long as the description. That's on Friday afternoon at 3:00.

After we present, I'll be enjoying the rest of the conference, which lasts through the rest of Friday and into Saturday. The panels all sound amazing, but for me, the best part is always meeting new friends, both authors and bloggers, and reconnecting with the friends I made over the last four years. True story: I have not seen my fellow panelists, Jen and Melissa, in person since last year's conference. We've made plans to spend time together before the con starts just so we can get the first jumps of joy taken care of before we have to present together.

Unfortunately, registration is closed, but it's not too late to start clearing your schedule for next year's con.

If you can't make it this year but want to follow the festivities anyway, there's an official Twitter feed: @KidlitCon, and a hashtag, #kidlitcon. Except for during my own panel, I'll probably be energetically live-tweeting the sessions I attend. Follow me: @mosylu

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Book Review: Funny How Things Change by Melissa Wyatt

Book: Funny How Things Change
Author: Melissa Wyatt
Published: 2009
Source: Local Library

The summer after his high school graduation, Remy knows that big changes are coming. He’s just agreed to move away from Walker Mountain with his beloved girlfriend, Lisa, while she goes to college. He’ll be fine, he tells himself. He’ll get a job as a mechanic or something. What does it matter, as long as he’s with Lisa?

But as the reality of leaving the mountains and his roots looms closer, Remy starts to wonder if he loves Lisa . . . or he loves home more.

Remy is in the kind of situation that YA authors love to plant their protagonists in, and let them claw their way out. Living in a trailer in the Appalachians of West Virginia, with a single parent and very little money, no prospect of higher education and what many would consider a dead-end job, most kids in Remy’s life would climbing the walls to get out. Remy’s not.

But his beloved Lisa is. And while we can see from the first page that Remy has the mountains in his blood and could never be happy anywhere else but on his own land, it’s a realization he has to come to on his own. Realistic in its portrayal of modern-day Appalachia, a young man’s first love, and his first great adult choice, Funny How Things Change is a book that will resonate with kids at the same crossroads.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Book Review: Angel Burn by L.A. Weatherly

Book: Angel Burn
Author: L.A. Weatherly
Published: 2011
Source: Review copy provided by publisher via

There's a new cult sweeping the nation, the Church of Angels. The angels have come to earth to bring peace and goodwill to humanity, and everyone who encounters an angel in person comes away changed, at peace, and wanting nothing more but to devote their lives to the angels forevermore.

Only Alex Kylar knows the truth: that these angels want a little something in return. Namely, human life force, which they suck away from their victims, leaving them dazed, confused, and in too many cases mentally broken or physically damaged. He's been on the road since the age of five, hunting and killing any angel he sees, but there are too few angel killers and too many angels.

Then he's sent after Willow Fields. She's psychic, she fixes cars, oh, and she's part angel. But only part, and she doesn't know a thing about her angelic half or even that angels exist. But for some reason, she's Public Angel Enemy #1. Alex starts to suspect that there's something big going down, and Willow Fields might just be the key to humanity's survival. No pressure or anything.

I was really behind this book about halfway through. It hit a lot of my interest spots. Smart, practical, slightly quirky girl? Check. Competent, cynical boy with the added mystique of wandering warrior, doing battle against the forces of evil all by himself? Check. A good amount of reluctant sexual tension between the two aforementioned? Check. Serious upending of a trope? Checkity check. (Eeeevil angels. Say it with me. Eeeeeeeeeeeeevil angels.)

Then Willow and Alex got together and confessed their love and it was sweet and all, but after that it was 50% lovey-dovey times. And I'm fine with lovey-dovey times, but there are some eeeeeevil angels out there to nuke, okay? Let's get on that.

And then at the very end . . . well. I had a rant about that, but it's spoileriffic. I'm just gonna say, long series may be the thing, but I don't think this book needed it, with all the build-up. 460 pages and you left it that wide open? I'm annoyed. I need some sort of pay-off.

Still, I think this book is worth reading, if only for the uniqueness of the premise, and I'll pick up the next one hoping for some resolution. But no more lovey-dovey times, okay? Smooch and move on to deep-frying the evil angels.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Reading Roundup August 2011

By the Numbers
Teen: 11
Tween: 12
Children: 10

Review Copies: 8
Swapped: 3
Library: 15

Teen: The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson
Just another dead-sister book . . . except it's not. Lennie's grief takes her all sorts of unexpected places as she attempts to create a new life, one where she has no sister's shadow to hide in.
Tween: The Death-Defying Pepper Roux by Geraldine McCaughrean
There's a real Forrest Gump vibe about this book, as the doomed Pepper Roux stumbles from one identity to another on borrowed time, and learns in the process that life is not about waiting to die.
Children: Captain Nobody by Dean Pitchford
After living a life in his brother's shadow, Newt Newman turns to alter ego Captain Nobody to cope when his brother has a life-threatening accident. Seriously not as angsty as it sounds.

Because I Want To Awards
Awesomest History Book Evah!: The Smart Aleck's Guide to American History by Adam Selzer
98% Fabulous: The Inquisitor's Apprentice by Chris Moriarty
There may be a blog post upcoming about this, but basically, I got to the climax and went, "Wait. What?"
Tailor-Made for 12-Year-Olds: Sir Fartsalot Hunts the Booger by Kevin Bolger
Throwback of the Month: Any Which Wall by Laurel Snyder
Reads exactly like the Penderwicks, Edward Eager, and all those other old-fashioned kids books, which can be bad or good depending on your mood.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Sorry, Y'all . . .

My August Reading Roundup is going to be delayed until tomorrow, due to acute brain-fried . . . ness. Argh.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Hunger Games Teaser is a Teaser

Get More: 2011 VMA, Music
Wooohoo! Yes, it's short and teasing. Cuz it's a TEASER, y'all. But you know what I love best? There's nothing about the big luuuuuurve triangle. It's all about our badass Katniss. Which was the focus of the books.

Oh, man, I can't wait.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Book Review: Where the Streets Had a Name by Randa Abdel-Fattah

Book: Where the Streets Had a Name 
Author: Randa Abdel-Fattah
Published: 2010
Source: Local Library

With her beloved grandmother’s health failing fast, Hayyab has decided that what she needs is soil from her home. Luckily, it’s only a few miles away. Unluckily, those miles lie in Jerusalem, across the wall between Palestine and Israel, through bullets and soldiers, riots and checkpoints. But she knows she must face it . . . not only for her grandmother’s sake, but her own.

I knew this wouldn’t be a cute romp when I picked it up. It takes place in a war zone. But what I wasn’t prepared for was the masterful way that Abdel-Fattah shows everyday life in the midst of death and fear. Sisters argue, grandmothers fart in bed, kids cut school.

But the war makes itself felt in everything. A journey of five miles, half my one-way commute to work, takes most of a day, due to various checkpoints, delays, and other artifacts of living on the border of two warring factions. Near the end of the book, a joyous wedding procession is interrupted and the whole wedding party must climb out of the car to be examined by checkpoint soldiers. And Hayyab's journey is not only one of distance, but one through her own fear. A terrible loss in her past is hinted at throughout her quest and it's not until she's ready to confront it that we're allowed to find out what it is ourselves. Fair warning, it's devastating.

My favorite parts were the religious question, or rather the lack of one. Jerusalem is a wild mix of faiths. Hayyab herself is Muslim, but her best friend is Christian. They meet Jewish people that they come to respect and admire. For a conflict so mired in religion, this attitude drives home the basic pointlessness of arguing over God.

Abdel-Fattah wisely stays out of right and wrong, and goes for the human impact. More than an us/them book, Where the Streets Had a Name is a good hard look at the consequences of growing up in an active war zone, and the thorny questions that surround not only this conflict but every war.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Book Review: Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt

Book: Okay for Now
Author: Gary Schmidt
Published: 2011
Source: Review copy from publisher, via NetGalley

Doug Swieteck is moving to a podunk little town in the middle of nowhere and he’s not looking forward to it. For one thing, he doesn’t think his nasty father and brother will be any nicer in upstate New York than they are in Long Island.

He’s right, they're not. But this podunk little town has riches galore for this tough, savvy, yet vulnerable kid. In the local library, he discovers the artwork of John Audobon. In his part-time job, he discovers the joy of being respected and valued as a hard worker, and in his boss’s daughter, he discovers the joys and woes of being friends and possibly (gulp!) more with a girl.

But these new joys in his life don’t mean all the darkness has vanished.

In some ways this is a challenging book. Schmidt doesn’t stop to explain anything, trusting that his readers will keep up. Not only that, what Doug says and what he does and what he really thinks are often three radically different things. We don’t need the words, “I’m a punching bag for my father and brothers” to understand that this is the case. Doug speaks to us directly, as if we are some invisible audience to his changing world, and he’s exactly as prickly and guarded as he is when speaking to the inhabitants of his real life.

In The Wednesday Wars, Schmidt told the story of a boy learning to use Shakespeare as a lens through which to understand the world. He does something similar in Okay for Now, but with art instead of literature. Doug, who lives a life so layered with things he can’t talk about, finds that in the unspoken tragedy and beauty of John Audubon's bird paintings, he can make sense of his senseless world. His brother Lucas, a double amputee back home from Vietnam, is angry and embittered. But Doug, who was struck by the terrible pain of a hopeless and dying bird in one of the Audobon prints, sees the same pain in his brother’s eyes, and finds a way to push through his shell and drag him back to life. Remember that this is one of the same brothers who regularly beat him up. Doug is learning empathy for his tormentors and enemies as well as his friends. People, he is finding, are so much more complex than they seem.

This isn't a book you read for the intricate plotting, unless your definition of plot refers to emotional intricacies and slow revelations. That's why I was so surprised to find myself staying up until after midnight to finish it. But Doug pulled me into his world and wouldn't let me go until he was good and ready. This book has been getting awards chatter ever since the first ARCs started slipping out, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see some kind of shiny sticker on this book come January.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Book Review: This Gorgeous Game by Donna Freitas

Book: This Gorgeous Game
Author: Donna Freitas
Published: 2010
Source: Local Library

Olivia's life is looking pretty good right now. Not only is she the first-ever winner of a prestigious young writer's award, the contest's sponsor has taken a special interest in her. Father Mark, a Catholic priest and a famous novelist, is everything Olivia wants to be, and his attentions make her dizzy. Special meetings to talk about writing, invitations to prestigious literary events, presents chosen just for her.

Then the attention gets to be so marked, and so focused, that Olivia's inner voice starts to whisper that something is wrong. What could be wrong, though? Father Mark is wonderful, kind, generous, a literary genius. He just wants to help her . Everyone loves him. Why can't Olivia? Why do the sight of his letters, his emails, and his texts suddenly make her sick to her stomach? She has to be imagining it.

She just has to be.

So let's get this out of the way now. Yes, Father Mark is a Catholic priest. Yes, he is abusing his position of power over Olivia. No, this is not a book about the eeeeeevil Catholic church overlooking pedophiles. In fact, everyone that Olivia turns to at the end are staunch Catholics, and they say without blinking, "This ain't right." As a Catholic, I love this because my church has taken enough beatings, and as a reader, I love this because it becomes a much more universal story about a girl in a terrible situation, threatened by someone in power over her.

This is a short book as YA books go these days, only about 200 pages, and yet I had to keep putting it down and walking away for awhile, especially as I got closer to the end. Freitas does a masterful job of slowly twisting Father Mark's behavior from flattering to smothering to ultimately terrifying. There are hints of his darker nature even at the beginning--seriously, who arranges a meet-up with a seventeen-year-old girl at a bar?--but Olivia willfully blinds herself to them because she is so dazzled and flattered.

Father Mark gives Olivia two poems, close to the end of the book, that are such shattering love poems that I wobbled around going, "Wow" after I read them. One is Pablo Neruda's Sonnet XVII, the other a poem from Thomas Merton (that unfortunately I wasn't able to find online, pooey), and they both knocked me flat on my butt. But in this context, from this person, they ratchet up the creepy by a factor of 100, if not 1000. These poems speak of a love that Olivia isn't ready for, and knows she isn't ready for, and yet that Father Mark seems convinced she feels the same as he does.

Like all stalking relationships, it really is about power, not love. Father Mark's positions as a priest to a faithful Catholic, as a professor to a student, as a published and lionized author to a promising novice, and as an adult to a teenager, all make it terribly difficult for Olivia to even admit to herself that what he's doing is terribly wrong and she doesn't want it to continue. Those are also the reasons why she must. I said it in my roundup a few months back and I'll say again now: this is the book for every girl who's ever ignored the little voice inside that says, "This isn't right." This is also the book for every girl who might hear that little voice in the future.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Book Review: This Girl is Different

Book: This Girl is Different
Author: J.J. Johnson
Published: 2011
Source: Review copy from publisher, via

After eleven years of homeschooling, Evie is looking forward to spending her senior year in a typical public high school. When she meets Jacinda and her gorgeous cousin Rajas just before the first day of school, she’s even more sure that she’s going to love it.

When she gets to school, however, Evie is troubled by the various social inequities that she sees all around her. When a teacher publicly humiliates a student, Evie decides it’s time to do what she’s been taught all her life and speak out. But what started out with pure intentions quickly spirals into a seething mess of hurt feelings and anonymous bullying that ultimately shreds her friendship with Jacinda and her fledgling relationship with Rajas.

Evie wanted to change the world, but never like this.

This girl is different, and so is this book. I went in expecting a wacky tale of a hippie fish out of water that ultimately makes everybody see how wrong they are and clasp hands around the flagpole singing "Kumbaya." Luckily, that wasn't the case. The one who learns and changes the most is Evie herself as she learns that her idealism doesn't really allow for the shades of grey that exist in the real world.

Except in the case of Evie’s mother (a rather standard-issue anti-corporate, anti-authoritarian type) Johnson handily gives the stereotypes a miss and surrounds Evie with complicated people colored in shades of gray. Jacinda is a cheerleader, occasionally ditzy, and involved but she’s also sweet, compassionate. Rajas is cute, charming, but doesn’t want to “label” their relationship, a tendency that sets off my alarm bells. These shades of grey mean that when they learn and change as well, it's more satisfying.

Even the villains aren’t as terribly villainous as they seem at first glance. Johnson scores points with me by not making the school principal an opponent, but a compassionate adult who sympathizes with Evie’s feelings while trying to educate her about the consequences associated with taking a stand, and how facing up to those is as much an act of social activism as taking that stand in the first place.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Reading Roundup: July 2011

By the Numbers
Teen: 11
Tween: 8
Children: 7

Review Copies: 5
Swapped: 1
Purchased: 1
Library: 17

Teen: TIE Flash Burnout by L.K. Madigan AND Say the Word by Jeannine Garsee
While these are two very different stories, for me the reason they stood out was the same: the main characters. One is a boy making all the wrong choices in his first two profound attachments to two different girls. One is a girl struggling with her mother's recent death and all the choices that same mother made in her life. They can both be jaw-droppingly selfish and short-sighted, but still managed to be sympathetic enough to keep me reading. Well done, both authors.
Tween: The Last Invisible Boy by Evan Kuhlman
Don't let the Wimpy-Kid-style drawings fool you. This is a quiet and reflective book on the death of a parent, or more accurately, a boy getting used to the loss of a parent, that really takes the time to explore all the different emotions.
Children: Clover Twig and the Magical Cottage by Kaye Umansky
After that title, I was expecting something so twee my teeth would fall out. What I got was a hilarious and quirky fantasy with a stridently down-to-earth heroine who handles anything comes her way, be it a back-talking front gate, an evil witch, or an incredibly dirty house she's just been hired to clean. I want more Clover Twig!

Because I Want To Awards
Tongue-Firmly-in-Cheek: The Case of the Case of Mistaken Identity by Mac Barnett is an especial treat for people who've read more than their lifetime recommended allowance of Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mysteries.
Okay, Did They Even Read It?: Luv Ya Bunches by Lauren Myracle, infamous for being excluded from Scholastic Book fairs at schools because a character has two moms, contains more discussion of Islam than it does of lesbians. On the other hand . . . hmm.
Way Too Cool: Where Else in the Wild? by David M. Schwartz is perfect for Where's Waldo lovers who also enjoy science and animals.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Reading Roundup, June 2011

By the Numbers
Teen: 23
Tween: 9
Children: 8

Review Copies: 8
Purchased: 1
Library: 28

Teen: This Gorgeous Game by Donna Freitas
To everyone else, he's the most perfect and amazing person in the world. But to her, he's the one she most adamantly doesn't want. This story of obsession should be read by every girl who's ever ignored that little voice inside.
Tween: After Ever After by Jordan Sonnenblick
Kiddie cancer patients just warm the friggin' cockles of your heart, don't they? Sonnenblick shows us what life is like for the ones who beat it: the physical effects of the medicine, the trauma to the family members, and the ever-present fear that it'll come back. It could be angst-o-rama, but he combines it with a pitch-perfect story of a mostly typical young teen trying to find his place in the world.
Children: Junonia by Kevin Henkes
If you've ever known or been a sensitive and introverted child, you'll recognize Alice, her dismay at the changes in her beloved summer hideaway, her hopes for the all-important tenth birthday, and her quest to find the rare junonia shell.

Because I Want To Awards
Most Harrowing: The Enemy and The Dead, by Charlie Higson
Yep, It's That Good!: The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger
Best Possible End: Are These My Basoomas I See Before Me? by Louise Rennison
Marvelously Gross: Crust and Spray: Gross Stuff in Your  Eyes, Ears, Nose, and Throat by C.S. Larsen

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

This 'n' That

I have a few different things to natter on about today. Well, three.

  • You guys, you guys! KidlitCon '11 is in the works! September 16-17 in Seattle. More deets needed? Check out Chasing Ray for the lowdown. I love this conference and I've been at every one so far. The best part is meeting all the cool people I know in cyberspace.
  • So what's the final word on the #48HBC? See MotherReader's wrap-up post for a global view. As for me, my final donation tally is 11 books read x $5 per book, and 23 comments left x $1 per comment, for a grand total of (drumroll) 78 dollars to Make Way for Books, a Tucson-based literacy organization. Who ever heard of donating 78 dollars? I'm making it an even 80.
  • Finally, this made me happy: an SLJ interview with Sir Terry Pratchett, one of my favorite authors on the planet even before he started writing books specifically for children and teens. Quotes like this are why: "Amazingly, I find that children understand rather more than their parents think they do." So true.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

48-Hour Book Challenge . . . Met!

So, another 48-hour Book Challenge, come and gone. I think I've got my technique down now. I pick books I'm excited about to keep up my energy. I use the audiobook option to give my eyes a break and let me do things that I can't do with a book in my hand. I keep Twitter and Google Reader open so I can dip into the Internet and see how other challengers are doing. I use a stopwatch-and-spreadsheet technique to keep track of my time. Yes, I'm a nerd. Shut up. So this was a pretty good year!

Here are my totals.

Books read: 10 (not bad, considering that I worked all day Saturday)
Audiobooks: part of one. I'll count it as a round one.
Time reading (including audiobook time): 14 hours, 33 minutes, 22 seconds
Time blogging, including this post: 4 hours, 31 minutes, 52 seconds
Time social-networking: 1 hour, 38 minutes, 45 seconds.
For a total time of . . .

20 hours, 44 minutes.


Since I pledged five dollars for every book read, that's 55 dollars for Make Way for Books so far. I'll wait until Monday night to tally up the replies on my posts (a dollar apiece) and see how much the final donation will be.

One of the things I take away from this every year is, "Boy, are there a lot of nuts out there." Um, I mean, "Cool people who love the same things I do." The other thing is how quick it is to write a blog entry. I get re-energized and into a pattern of reviewing. Maybe this time it'll stick, what do you think?

Thanks again for another great year, MotherReader and all my fellow challengers!

Audiobook Review: Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

Book: Anne of Green Gables
Author: L.M. Montgomery
Narrator: Laurie Klein
Published: 1908
Source: Local Library

Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert thought they were getting a sturdy, sensible little orphan boy who would help Matthew around the farm. What they got instead was Anne Shirley, a sensitive, imaginative, red-headed orphan girl who will bring breath and life into the stagnant Green Gables.

Like the Stones say, you can't always get what you want . . . but sometimes, you'll get what you need.

Time: 3:01:48 (partial)
Why I Wanted to Read It: I love audiobooks, but have a hard time listening to ones that are new to me, so I tend to pick books I've read before. It's been entirely too long since I spent time with Anne.

So this is a partial review, since I've only listened up to the first meeting with Diana Barry. I'd forgotten how long it takes for Anne to ease into Avonlea society. After all, we can't imagine one without the other. But then, the other thing I'd forgotten was how weird and wild Anne is to the staid and prosaic people of Avonlea, not least the Cuthberts. Full of imagination and romantical fantasy and plopped down in a practical and hard-working farming community, this is a fish out of water and no mistake. Maybe the reason Anne has to exist in Avonlea (and vice versa) is that they are so different they function as two sides of the same coin.

Reading this as an adult, I find myself horrified by Anne's life before Green Gables, and profoundly grateful for the mix-up that landed her there. As sensitive as she is, it couldn't have been too much longer before the lack of love and the constant exploitation would have destroyed her. Or maybe I'm being pessimistic and her sturdy imagination, which creates friends out of reflections and echoes, would have shielded her into adulthood. Luckily, we'll never know.

The other part of reading this as an adult is that Anne is hilarious. Like many a starry-eyed teenager, she takes things she's heard and barely understands, mixes them up, and spouts them forth. And yet, she's not being pretentious. She genuinely loves the romantic poets of her era (she seems to exist somewhere in the 1870's or 1880's) and is open to the joys of nature. Some of the stuff she comes out with could be seen as manipulative if written in a modern book, especially when she talks despairingly of what a trial she is, or how frightfully badly she should be punished. But we all know Anne is simply not like that.

The narrator, Laurie Klein, annoyed me a little bit at first, because she seemed to be a little over the top herself. But either I got used to her style or she settled into it. I'll go on reading this, definitely, and remembering why this girl still resonates with kids and adults over 100 years later.

Book Review: The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis by Barbara O'Connor

Book: The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis
Author: Barbara O'Connor
Published: 2009
Source: Local Library

Nothing ever happens to Popeye. Living out in the country along with his shifty Uncle Dooley and his overburdened grandmother, Velma, each day is the same as the last and next. He longs for changes and adventure. Then he meets Elvis.

Well, not that Elvis.

Elvis Jewell is the oldest of five children. He lives in a Holiday Rambler that's just gotten stuck in the lane that leads to Popeye's house. He's the president of the Spit and Swear club, and just like Popeye, he's ripe for an adventure. But it'll have to be a small adventure, because they've only got a few days until his parents manage to un-stuck the Holiday Rambler and then he'll be gone.

When Popeye and Elvis find boats made out of Yoo-Hoo containers floating down the creek, bearing cryptic messages, they know this is the small adventure they've been looking for. But is there time to have it before Elvis has to leave again?

Time: 0:23:47
Why I Wanted to Read It: With only about an hour and a half left of the 48-Hour Book Challenge, I wanted a very short read, and I've liked Barbara O'Connor's books in the past.

There's a timelessness about this book. It makes no reference to cell phones or the Internet, to anything that anchors it to any particular time beyond now-ish. It's about two bored kids in a long, hot summer, longing for excitement and challenge in lives that don't offer much of either.

Although it's clear that all the characters are living in what comfortable suburban kids would consider abject poverty, O'Connor makes no effort to address or correct this. It is what it is, it's their life, and they're living it.

What is there to take away from such a short, odd little book? What I closed it with is the sense that friendship, no matter how fleeting, is something to be treasured, and adventures, no matter how small, are something to be pursued.

Book Review: A Spy in the House by Y.S. Lee

Book: A Spy in the House
Author: Y.S. Lee
Published: 2010
Source: Local Library

One step from the gallows, Mary Lang was rescued and given a new lease on life by Miss Scrimshaw's Academy. Five years later, at the age of seventeen, the rechristened Mary Quinn is recruited for the secretive Agency, a collective of female operatives who do all the dirty jobs that their male counterparts can't.

Her first job is in the Thorold household. Apparently, there's something fishy going on with Mr. Thorold's company, and in the guise of serving as a companion to his spoiled daughter, Mary is to keep her ears and eyes open for any hints as to what.

There's plenty afoot in this house. Why is Thorold's secretary, Michael Grey, so flirtatious? Why is Mrs. Thorold so sickly sometimes and so assertive others? What's with the clever and sarcastic James Easton sticking his nose in everywhere? Mary's got a lot on her hands, sorting out the truly dangerous from the merely seedy, and she's got to do it fast.

Time: 1:55:40
Why I Wanted to Read It: Victorian girl spies! It's like the Gallagher Girls, but with crinolines!

Except not. Oh well.

Mary was so far removed from the central investigation that I couldn't quite grasp the nature of the mystery, and her efforts at finding out more just seemed like recklessness instead of taking initiative. Honeypot, you're a trainee spy, serving as a backup to the central agent in the investigation. This is not the time to boldly declare your independence and go tearing off to screw up said agent's careful plans, especially when you have no idea what they are. Aside: and why is a trainee spy thrown into an investigation without support beyond one or two cryptic notes from the head of the Agency? Also, why didn't we ever find out the identity of the central agent? I was waiting to find out that it was somebody really cool and heretofore unsuspected and . . . nothing.

I did like the setting. Mary's London is so seamy that you half-expect the Artful Dodger to pop up, and she's so comfortable in it that you'd expect her to say, "'Allo, gov," to said famous pickpocket. Lee also touches on the plight of minorities in Victorian London. Mary, it transpires, is half-Chinese and considers this a terribly shameful secret. I wish we'd witnessed the treatment of Asians before that, just so her position wouldn't be so cringe-inducing to a modern reader.

I also liked James, conducting his own investigation and constantly running afoul of Mary's work, and she of his. The sparkage was interesting, which makes me hope that we'll see him again, even though his final appearance in the book would seem to deny that possibility.

Less Gallagher Girls, more straight-up historical mystery. I'll read the next book for the setting, and the interesting premise, and hope that the things that frustrated me this time around will be corrected.

Book Review: Enchanted Glass by Diana Wynne Jones

Book: Enchanted Glass
Author: Diana Wynne Jones
Published: 2010
Source: Local Library

Aiden Cain is in a pickle. Orphaned by the sudden death of his gran, he's also being stalked by strange creatures, which has gotten him kicked out of at least one foster home. His gran always told him he could go to Jocelyn Brandon, of Melstone House, who would know what to do about him. But when Aidan arrives at Melstone, he discovers that Mr. Brandon is dead and the new owner, Mr. Brandon's grandson, doesn't have any more idea what to do than Aidan does.

Andrew Hope is likewise in a pickle. He's inherited his grandfather's field-of-care, the responsibility for the magical well-being of a huge area of land. It's been far too long since his childhood lessons with his grandfather, which he's starting to realize were more than just the imaginative play that he told himself they were. He's also starting to realize that Aidan is a lot more than just an orphaned relative.

As magical enemies gather on the horizon and high summer looms, Andrew and Aidan are going to need to keep their heads cool and their wits about them if they hope to come through this one alive.

Time: 1:57:18
Why I Wanted to Read It: Please. Did you see who wrote it?

One of my favorite parts of this, and of most of Jones' work, is how high magic and legendary creatures exist alongside prosaic English country life. Soccer games are witnessed by sanguine weredogs, friendly giants eat unwanted vegetables, and gigantic cauliflowers grown by magic are made into cauliflower cheese. (I had to look this up. Yecccch.) In fact, in many ways this is a book that could never have been written by an American, because the base of it is a particularly English-countryside mindset of ownership and responsibility for the land and the people in it.

There was some discussion about Andrew being at least as strong a main character as Aidan, if not stronger. Conventional wisdom holds that kids only want to read about other kids, but then, Jones never seems to pay much attention to "conventional wisdom" when it comes to her books. (Witness the success of Howl's Moving Castle, which has one child character, and that a secondary one.) It didn't feel at all jarring to me, and I think we don't give kids enough credit for being interested in a good character no matter their age.

Basically, this book is classic Diana Wynne Jones. Mayhem, narration filled with biting wit, outrageously flawed adults and children, magic, more mayhem, coolly threatening villains, and main characters who despite being woefully unprepared for the task at hand, roll up their sleeves and plunge in. If you're already a fan, this won't disappoint. If you're not, this will make you one.

Book Review: Forget You by Jennifer Echols

Book: Forget You
Author: Jennifer Echols
Published: 2010
Source: Local Library

Zoey Commander's life kinda sucks at the moment. Her dad is marrying his pregnant twenty-four-year-old mistress in Hawaii and her mom is in the loony bin. Not to mention, she can't seem to get away from brooding Doug Fox, who calls her a spoiled brat and blames her for all his problems.

Then the wreck happened, and everything changed. Doug is suddenly acting like they're something special to each other, and her actual boyfriend, Brandon, is nowhere to be seen. But what is responsible for this sudden change? Because try as she might, Zoey can't remember a thing about that night. And she doesn't dare let anyone know, because she's terrified that she might get locked up alongside her mother. But how can she discover the truth without anybody figuring out that's what she's after?

Time: 1:50:34
Why I Wanted to Read It: I really loved Going Too Far. Unfortunately, this book didn't live up to the promise.

My major problem with this book was the main character. Frankly, Zoey annoyed the daylights out of me. With her life in a shambles, she's clinging desperately to what little she does have control over, then accuses Doug of lying to, manipulating, and controlling her. Character-wise, that makes sense, but god, was it exasperating! Probably the thing that annoyed me most was her insistence on holding Doug at a distance because she was with Brandon . . . a guy she had stupid, impulsive sex with once, didn't like it, doesn't think much of him, and yet he's the love of her life? Whatever.

I realize this sounds like I think this is the worst book ever committed to paper, but it's not. I did feel for Zoey, confused and lost and looking for answers in all the wrong places. I also felt for Doug, who is as confused in his way as Zoey, but at least it's obvious he cares for her. There was just so much that drove me batty about Zoey that I can't completely endorse it as a romance. I'll read Echol's other books, because she is awfully good, just as long as she doesn't come up with another character who's this much of a mess.

Book Review: The Reinvention of Edison Thomas by Jacqueline Houtman

Book: The Reinvention of Edison Thomas
Author: Jacqueline Houtman
Published: 2010
Source: Local Library

Edison Thomas knows all sorts of things, like the Latin name for his pet rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus), how many grams there are in a pound (453.59237), and the hardest substance in the human body (tooth enamel). What he doesn't know is how people work. For instance, why does Mitch, who has been his friend since childhood, always say strange things and laugh when he's around? What is the meaning behind the ketchup packets that are suddenly turning up in all his things? (They're certainly not his.) And what does it mean that new people, like geeky Justin, science-fiction fan Terry, and musician Kip, are suddenly talking to him?

As he struggles to create an invention that will solve the problem of a dangerous intersection near the school, Eddy finds himself reassessing the nature of friendship. Of the two, the second is the far thornier problem.

Time: 0:57:14
Why I Wanted to Read It: Duuude! Science!

I have a great affection for scientific kids in fiction, such as Calpurnia Tate and Phineas L. McGuire. They approach the world in a logical and orderly fashion. Of course, very often the narrative conflict comes from the refusal of people to act in a logical and orderly manner, and that's certainly the case with Eddy. I loved seeing him slowly recognize the unhealthy nature of his relationship with Mitch, and start to build on better ones with new people who appreciate him as he is and overlook or gently correct his quirks.

While never explicitly stated in the text, Eddy does seem to have Asperger's or some other form of high-functioning autism. He's terribly sensitive to sudden noises, tends to fixate on random facts, and goes to specialized counseling sessions. But neurotypical kids will recognize his quagmires, even if his methods for dealing with them would differ from their own.

I would have liked to see a stronger comeuppance for the poisonous Mitch, but otherwise, I won't hesitate in recommending this book for anyone who wants a unique and interesting book about friendship, science, and the intersection of the two.