Monday, December 31, 2012

Reading Roundup: December 2012

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

Review Copies: 6

Purchased: 2
Library: 18

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

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

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

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Book Review: Mostly Good Girls by Leila Sales

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 22, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Book Review: Hush by Eishes Chayil

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Book Review: Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Reading Roundup: November 2012

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

Review Copies: 4

Purchased: 1
Library: 13

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

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