Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A Momentous Occasion!

I don't really have much to talk about in this post, only that it is my 1000th! Yes! I have officially blathered on for 1000 of these suckers.

Now to be strictly fair, the first posts were about my life as an overseas student in London, mumblemumble years ago. (Ever wondered about my URL? This used to be called Diary of a Bloody Yank.) Even then, I used to talk about books. I let it lapse after coming back to the States, but in grad school, I started feeling the yen to talk about the children's and YA books I was reading. And I've been doing that ever since.

I'm not the most prolific blogger on the planet, but hey, slow and steady wins. Not the race. This isn't a race and I'm not about to stop after crossing this particular finish line. Just, you know, wins.

Thanks for reading. I write this blog for me, but I also write it for you.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Book Review: Mind Games by Kiersten White

Book: Mind Games
Author: Kiersten White
Published: February 19, 2013
Source: ARC acquired at KidLitCon 12

It’s Fia’s job to take care of her sister Annie. Although she’s the younger of the two, Annie is blind, and Fia has always known that she is responsible for her. Even after their parents’ death, even after they were taken away to a secretive school for young psychics run by the malevolent Keane family, Fia has taken care of Annie.

Now, she’s become a teenaged errand girl, sent on all the nasty missions that Keane needs done. She’ll steal, she’ll maim, she’ll even kill, because if she doesn’t, Annie will suffer. Fia can feel her soul eroding, but she’d let it go entirely if it means Annie is safe.

But what she doesn’t realize is how far Annie is prepared to go for Fia’s safety.

Guys, you have no idea how afraid I was that this would be a love story about the damaged girl and the boy who saves her soul with the Powah of Lurve. The book opens with Fia deciding not to kill the boy that is her mark, and I went, “Oh, crap.”

Rest assured, it’s not. While Fia’s decision sets the plot in motion, the boy she spares is never more than incidental. White keeps the focus on the two sisters, and their determination to protect each other. Unlike many books where it’s all about the Boy and the Lurve and the Destiny, Adam and his foil, James Keane, serve as backdrop to a story that unfolds in two timelines and two points of view. One story focuses on Annie’s slow realization over some years that the school is not the benevolent institution she thought it was. The other showcases Fia, trapped in her hitwoman role, finally breaking out.

So apparently, this is the first of a series. I'm not sure what I think about that. On the one hand, the book works nicely as a standalone. Though it came around very abruptly (I feel as if I missed a chapter showing how and why Fia made her decision), the end is satisfying enough. On the other, many things (the eeeeevil Mr. Keane and his shady plans, to be precise) are sketched in so lightly that I really wanted more expansion on them. Also, the girls are left at new beginnings, and I kinda want to see where those take them. So I'll read the sequel next year and report back on whether it holds up.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Cybils Book Review: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews

Book: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Author: Jesse Andrews
Published: 2012
Source: Review copy from publisher specifically for the Cybils

Chubby, pasty, and socially awkward, Greg Gaines has spent most of his high school career trying not to make waves, and finding a fair amount of success. He prides himself on being accepted by every group without ever really being part of one. He stays off the radar and out of firing range in the war that is high school. Nobody knows about his secret hobby of filmmaking except for his (for lack of a better word) best friend and co-director, the undersized and perpetually furious Earl.

Then Greg's mother tells him that Rachel Kushner has leukemia, and she wants him to spend some time with her.

Who is Rachel Kushner? Nobody, really. A girl he once sort-of-maybe-but-not-really had a thing with, in eighth grade. Their parting was drawn out, awkward, and gratefully forgotten until now. Greg bows to the unstoppable force that is his mom's nagging and revives their friendship. He's just trying to make her laugh, but he finds himself opening up to her. And whether he likes it or not, Greg Gaines is about to make tsunami-size waves.

The book really isn't about Rachel, in spite of her presence in the title. As a character, she's actually rather thin (delete tasteless Greg-style joke about thinness and chemo patients). She doesn't do much. There's not even any hint of romance. But her illness forces Greg to be a friend for the first time in his life. He has to do things that are uncomfortable to him. He has to expose his own flaws, not only to her but to others. Near the end of the book, he gets suckered into making a film about Rachel. In the past, he and Earl have made one attempt at each film and went on to the next one. They were stupid, derivative, tasteless, and pretty much senseless. This time he makes . . .

A stupid, derivative, tasteless, and pretty much senseless film. Or rather, five of them. He keeps going. He keeps trying. And while the result is astonishingly bad (I cringed just reading the bits that we get), he still worked at it, for perhaps the first time in his life.

Like most guys, Earl and Greg show their feelings by talking around them, joking about them, and downright pretending they don't exist. You have to watch carefully to see the change in Greg from someone trying to stay invisible and unhurt to someone who is reluctantly, tremulously, openly vulnerable.

I feel like this book got overlooked a lot because of its overt similarity to the much more high-profile The Fault in Our Stars. (And trust me, there will be a review of that coming. Sometime. Soon. Ish.) But they're really not the same at all. Sure, they both talk about death in teens, and how it affects other teens, but in tone and approach they couldn't be more different. This is the death/cancer book for kids who will moan and roll their eyes all the way through The Fault in Our Stars. Myself, I loved them both.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Cybils Day!

Hop on over to the Cybils blog to discover the winners for this year. Congratulations to all the authors and illustrators, and many, many thanks to all the judges and organizers. This is a big job and it's all volunteer-driven.

I had a great time with my fellow judges for the YA fiction panel, and I feel awfully proud of our choice. Hope you like it as much as we did.

Also, there's some holiday about love or something. Yeah. I don't see it catching on.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Book Review: Hysteria by Megan Miranda

Book: Hysteria
Author: Megan Miranda
Published: February 5, 2013
Source: Review copy from publisher via NetGalley

Things have been a little weird for Mallory ever since she killed her boyfriend, Brian, with a kitchen knife one summer night. She's ostracized by most of her friends, virtually ignored at home, and forced to take out a restraining order against Brian's grief stricken mother. It was self-defense . . . well, she's pretty sure it was self-defense. But however it happened, she's still suffering.

When her parents enroll her in boarding school, Mallory goes along with it, desperate to escape the constant reminders of what she did. But her guilt follows her to school, where bitchy classmates spread the tale of her past far and wide, and she constantly sees a green car whenever she leaves campus. Even worse, Brian himself seems to be haunting her. She keeps waking up with a painful red handprint on her shoulder, and the dreams just won't stop.

What really did happen that hot summer night? And when Mallory finally knows, what is she going to do about it?

So I'm calling it. The stealth trend of the last few years is Gothic. Some are the traditional Gothics (The Dark Unwinding, a Gothic with a steampunk cover), some are updated (Unspoken) and some go by the name "psychological thriller." But this is totally Gothic.

Girl in danger? Check. Possibly-paranormal-source-of-danger? Check. Girl being told that there is nothing wrong and it's all in her head? CHECK.

How did it work for me? Pretty well, when I was reading it. I got caught up in Mallory's gritty tale, especially since there were times when she wobbled at the edge of sanity. Few things are quite so neat as an unreliable narrator. While Mallory never got to that point, she definitely leaned in that direction. I also liked Reid, the childhood friend who turned out very cute and very sweet. And Colleen, her best friend from home, was ten pounds of awesome in a five pound bag.

After I put it down, I started thinking. Really, parents? Really?? This girl was traumatized, and there was no therapy. No counseling, court-ordered or otherwise. You just packed her off to boarding school and expected that to go well. There wasn't even a nod from school administration that their newest student might have some issues that needed tending to, although they clearly knew since the head of the jackass clique was the dean's son and the one who saw to it that the story got around. Reid was a little bit Ideal Boy for me, though it was good that he was there to balance out the total disdain from everyone else.

Maybe that's what made it most Gothic for me. Mallory has been abandoned by everyone (she's even cut off from Colleen for a short time) and she has to face down all her enemies, including her own mind, by herself.

Final verdict? I liked it, but decided not to think about it very hard.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Book Review: Hooked by Liz Fichera

Book: Hooked
Author: Liz Fichera
Published: January 29, 2013
Source: Review copy from publisher via NetGalley

Fred has been picked for the golf team. Nothing new there, right? But you need a few details. Fred is really Fredrika, and this is the men’s golf team. And she’s a Native girl from an Arizona rez, plopped in the midst of spoiled rich white boys from Phoenix.

One of those is Ryan, who was the best player on the team before Fred came along, and whose best friend was bumped to make room for her. He has no reason to like her, but he just can't stop thinking about her or wanting to spend time with her.

There are so many reasons that being together would be problematic. But the only thing worse is being apart.

Guys, I'm awfully torn about this book.

The Good: I got hooked (hur-hur, see what I did there?) by Fred and Ryan. I really wanted them to be together, even when they made dumb decisions and then angsted about them. They genuinely liked and respected each other once they scratched the surface even the tiniest bit, so I was well able to believe that this was more than hornypants. They had a shot at a good thing, if they were able to take it.

I also loved the sense of place. This was very clearly an Arizona book, and it brought out the majesty and desolation of the desert that I love. It also touched on the racial tensions that, unfortunately, my state is known for. (Yay us. Sarcasm flag.) I even got a happy thrill when Tucson or the U of A were mentioned. What can I say? My state just doesn't get that much literary recognition.

And . . . the Bad: See above, about the bad decisions. There were times I wanted to yell at the book: "Fred! Stop messing around with the old friend who wants to be more. You know that never ends well. Ryan! Jettison the clingy bitchy girlfriend and the jerkwad best friend. You know that never ends well. Are you two listening to me?"

Second is a SPOILER. Jump down to the last paragraph if you don't want to be SPOILED.

Good now? Okay. So, what bugged me, more and more deeply the more I think about it, is that Fred never resolved her conflict with Seth, the boy who was bumped from the team to make room for her. From the beginning, she feels out of place. Seth goes out of his way to reinforce that feeling, in hopes of bullying her right off the team so that things are the way they’re supposed to be. Is it because she’s a girl? Because she’s an Indian? Both of those things, but mostly because she replaced him.

I was waiting for the moment where she said to him, “Yknow what? Put on your big boy Underoos and deal. I deserve to be here. I deserve to play. I’m good, and you got cut because you weren’t.” But she never did. She apologized for having stepped on his toes, in fact, right up to, and throughout, the climactic scene. I felt cheated by that. It’s her conflict, and she didn’t resolve it. Instead, Ryan beat Seth to a pulp. Which, well done, because Ryan was a bit of a milquetoast about that situation for most of the book, but that shouldn’t have been the climax to her story, especially since Ryan had already made his allegiance clear in an earlier scene. In the three conflicts that this encompasses - Native vs. white, girl vs. boy, athlete vs athlete - this was unsatisfying for all three of them. And that made me unhappy because it started out so promising.

Still, I have a hard time resisting good swoon. Even with my doubts, I’ll recommend it to fans of the Perfect Chemistry series, and I'll read the next book in the series, about Ryan’s sister and Fred’s friend. But I want a more satisfying climax to both journeys.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Reading Roundup: January 2013

By the Numbers
Teen: 17
Tween: 11
Children: 6

Review Copies: 10

Purchased: 1
Library: 14

Teen (non-Cybils; can't tell you about my Cybils standout yet): Bitter End by Jennifer Brown
This was a compelling portrait of how easy it is to slide into a manipulative, abusive relationship, and how hard it is to get out again. Even though I knew Cole was a bleepity bleepity bleep from the start, I got a little sucked in myself.
Tween: Ten Miles Past Normal by Frances O'Roark Dowell
My favorite part of this entry into the overfull "OMG my parents are going to embarrass me to DEATH" genre was how abnormal the main character already is. She plays bass, she makes her own clothes, and she's blissfully unaware of her own weirdness until she learns to be okay with her parents' oddities.
Children: Around the World in 100 Days by Gary Blackwood
This sequel to the Jules Verne classic sees Phileas Fogg's son Harry on his own madcap quest in that newfangled contraption, the motorcar. The only thing this adventure was missing was maps. I really, really wanted maps. Guys, it's a trip around the world!

Because I Want To Awards
Good Clean Fun!: Also Known As by Robin Benway
This was a rompy, unlikely, fast-paced New York City spy story that ended rather better than I thought it would, which is just another reason I closed it with a big smile.
Best Characters: Nightspell by Leah Cypess
Every single character in this book had a slightly different motivation, and slightly different goals, and even the people who were supposed allies didn't always agree. Very nicely done.
Fluff/Serious Stuff Sandwich: Marco Impossible by Hannah Moskowitz
With a cotton-candy premise (boy is bent on publicly confessing his devotion to the love of his life, and drags his best friend into the hijinx), this book really winds up being about a complex friendship and two complicated boys. Also, the love of Marco's life is another boy, but that still manages to be part of the fluffiness. Mostly.
I'm Really Glad I Read This: A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park
I work in an area where many of my patrons come from exactly the kind of life that this slim little book lays out - civil war, refugee camps, and hardship. Having read it, I feel as if I understand them a little better.