Monday, August 31, 2009

Tricks by Ellen Hopkins

Tricks is Ellen Hopkins's new book that delves into the under ground world of teenage prostitution. Like her other books, this one is gritty, unflinching, and utterly remarkable for how it portrays a topic that isn't well documented in mainstream media but one that may truly resonate with many (* more on that in a second).

Hopkins's books are all written in verse and she makes many patterns within the verse layout that add layers and depth at the page level, as opposed to the textual level. Her writing is flawless and her development of five unique characters -- all of whom grow up in very different circumstances but all come together in the world of teenage prostitution in Las Vegas -- is so well done. I'm not a huge fan of epistolary novels or novels in verse because of what a huge task it is to accurately develop multiple voices and characters well. Fortunately, Hopkins is a master at this.

I'm not a grit lit appreciater. I'll be honest in writing that this wasn't one of my favorite books. However, I really loved the writing style and found myself compelled to finish the story. I wanted to see how well the characters were weaved and how the verse really draws you to the conclusions of five characters for whom you have sympathy because of crummy circumstances. This is a book I would undoubtedly recommend to those who love gritty books or appreciate interesting writing approaches. It's not for the weak of heart or people who aren't comfortable reading about drugs, drinking, dysfunction, sex, or any other similar topic. There are no good parents and there are few happily ever afters, but Hopkins wrote Tricks with other goals in mind.

As I alluded to, there is a greater reason for Hopkins writing this book. She includes a short author's note at the end about how teenage prostitution is a largely unseen but significant problems in America (yes, America and not just the "third world"). Tricks is meant to give voice to those who don't have one and it's meant to explore what could lead teenagers into this dangerous world. I'm really glad this note came at the end of the book, rather than as a preface, because it made me reflect on the story and "get it." There's a story here and there's a greater purpose; this is something that I appreciate and could see being a really important book for teens to read. Hopkins is not only talented, but she is committed to making an impact on the lives of teenagers, and I think she's going to hit a home run with this one.

Continue reading...

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Double Take, Part IX

Here's a double take that is of the same exact stock photo but with different color effects.

The Girl with the Mermaid Hair by Delia Ephron will be published by HarperTeen in early January 2010. This is the image from the ARC, so there's a chance it may not be the final cover choice.

The Mark by Jen Nadol will actually be released in late January 2010 -- a couple weeks after Girl with the Mermaid Hair. It's being published by Bloomsbury USA. Again, this is from the advanced copy, so it's not necessarily the final cover.

So which do you like better?

Personally, I dig the second one better. It's more haunting and memorable. The top looks a little too washed out for my taste, though I think that the image and cover are more fitting for the title than the one for The Mark. It'll be interesting to see if these are final covers in January, too.

Continue reading...

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ripley's Seeing is Believing GIVEAWAY

The new Ripley's annual for 2010 is out, and guess who has a copy to give away to one lucky reader? As if giving a copy of this awesome book is not enough, I'm throwing in a coupon good for buy one get one admission at any of the Ripley museums that is good through December 31, 2010.

So something has happened with these Ripley books, and that something is fantastic. When I was young, I remember Ripley's books being very similar to the thick volumes of Guinness World Records books: information, interesting stories, and a few black and white photos.

But this bad boy is jam packed with awesome full-color and full-page pictures.

This volume of Ripley's has some great feature sections. It's divided into 12 sections that highlight feats of the human body, food, science, earth, and more.

The book begins with a history of Ripley himself which gives a nice overview of the hows and whys of his entire story and legacy. I loved the nice feature on Houdini within the "Incredible Feats" section but was perhaps most impressed with the fold out feature on P. T. Barnum in the "Body Oddity" section. There's been a lot out about him recently, but with the research and name of Ripley's, this one's expertly done (and not to mention incredibly interesting with the layout and use of photos).

Did you know someone paid $3,154 to buy a half-eaten piece of toast ... of Justin Timberlake? What about the fact scientists in the UK studied the brain waves of locusts while they watched Star Wars? Oh, and the urban legend of mentos and diet coke? Well, you can look at the photo for yourself. And be careful if you are trying to have children and live in Nebraska or New Jersey: you're much more likely to have triplets than anywhere else in the country.

This is a book that boys and girls will enjoy. The photos are so interesting, the colors and lay outs of the pages are evocative and engaging without being overwhelming, and the snippets of human and non-human feats are attention-grabbing. What I love about these sorts of books is how they can be picked up and read at one's leisure any time. They also never get old -- you can read it again and again. Ripley's is good for all ages, though those who are squeamish may want to skip some parts of the book. It's a tried and true favorite and, well, SO MUCH BETTER than when I was a kid!

If you want to learn more about Ripley's annuals, check out their website here. If you want to buy the book, you can check out a good deal on their facebook page. But as I said before, I have a copy to give away along with a buy one get one pass.

Please follow ALL of the rules to be entered!

1. You can earn an entry through these means:

+ 1 if you comment with your email address
+ 1 if you comment with a Ripley's believe it or not type fact (and if it's something you pull from their website, even better!). If you can link to your source, you'll win our librarian hearts.
+ 2 if you subscribe to our feed or are already a subscriber
+ 2 if you tweet the giveaway or you blog it -- leave your twitter name/blog name in the comment. You can get 2 entries for tweeting and 2 entries for blogging for a total of 4.

2. You leave a separate comment for EACH point you earn (to be clear: comment on this post once if you just leave your email address. Add a second comment if you are also commenting with a "believe it or not" fact. Add two more comments if you subscribe or are a subscriber. Add two more if you tweet or blog it. So, the most comments you'd be leaving on the blog is 8 -- you tweet, blog, subscribe, tell a believe it or not, and leave an email). Please don't leave one comment with all your points; we'll never sort through them!

3. Contest runs from now until September 11.

To sweeten the deal a bit, the winner will also receive an ARC of choice from my bag. It'll be a surprise! If we get 75 comments or more, there will be a second winner of an ARC of my choosing (of course, with a bit of input from said winner).

Good luck. I'm so excited that the wonderful folks with Ripley's sent this title along. It's a beautiful book that will be well-loved by the lucky winner.

Continue reading...

Monday, August 24, 2009

Summer readin'...had me a blast!

One of my favorite things about summer is the reading. Although we can pick up a good romance or "beach read" any time, there's nothing more enjoyable than reading a story set on the beach or on vacation during the summer. This year, far from the heat and humidity and all together "summer" setting of the last few of my summers, I appreciated them just a little bit more. Here are a handful of this summer's top picks.

Breathing by Cheryl Renee Herbsman was one of the first books I read this summer. Savannah is a true Carolina girl who would find nothing more enjoyable than to spend her summer working at the library and reading romance novels ... until she meets Jackson, living near her for the summer. He's her dream boy, though as readers we realize that far before she does.

Savannah's mother is a controlling and unsympathetic one, though throughout the story we find the pieces about why she is that way; Jackson, being a gentleman, is careful to obey all of Savannah's mothers rules. When Savannah continues to have bouts with terrible asthma, though, it seems that Jackson may be the person who can make that better. Of course, it can't be that easy, and Jackson is pulled away from her at a critical time for family reasons. Will he be back? How will she go on and get better after these paralyzing attacks?

Breathing features a main character who is a combination of things that is just so rare in books: a smart girl ... a smart SOUTHERN girl. I really appreciated that and appreciated more than Savannah is not bragging about it nor is she ashamed of it. She's a real person. This book made use of southern dialect well without it being over done, even though there were particular phrases throughout that bothered me as a reader ("something fierce" was overused a bit). Herbsman definitely made a strong debut with this one!

The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han will be a mega hit with Sarah Dessen fans -- released May 2009, I don't think it's quite hit its peak because of the flood of new titles in the summer, but I suspect as more people read it and make the connection between the two writers' styles, it'll see its audience quite well.

Belly (short for Isabelle) spends her summers with her mother at Cousins Beach house, but they're not the only ones. Every summer since she was a baby, Belly's family has shared the summer home with her mother's best friend Susannah and her two sons, Conrad and Jeremiah. But this summer was not like those previous summers; Belly's finally coming into her own as a person and has suddenly caught the attention of Conrad and Jeremiah in ways she never did before when they were younger.

Although Belly has always had a fascination with Conrad, she meets another beacher, Cam, with whom she falls quickly in love with (well, love for a teenager looking for a beach romance, of course). But it's Jeremiah who will drop the news on Belly that everything she believes and she wants in boys just isn't what may be the best for her.

Add to the mix a realistic portrayal of a life-altering situation and The Summer I Turned Pretty becomes much more than a breezy read. Han weaves this narrative into the story quietly, much like Dessen can, and as such, she makes this a story that'll remain with the reader a little longer than just the time that the reader spends with the book. Unfortunately, though, Han has yet to see her full potential as a reader realized; she does rely a bit on a tried and true situation and to be entirely superficial, I got confused with too many characters having C names and none of those characters having much personality or development, making them interchangeable and uninteresting. However, for a story focusing on Belly and summer flings, this one satisfied. I'm excited to see how the second book in this series will turn out. It's slated for a spring 2010 release.

Okay, okay. Now you're really judging me after seeing that the next entry is about Lauren Conrad's L.A. Candy. But you know what? I liked it. Perhaps I liked it far more than I feel comfortable admitting, but wow. She -- or the person she thanks for "helping" her in the end notes -- wrote a pretty engaging, fast-paced, and fun book.

Jane moved to Los Angeles with her best friend Scarlett for an internship after finishing high school. Quickly after the move into a tiny, dingy apartment, Jane runs into a casting director at a club who offers her and Scarlett the opportunity to try out for a new reality series entitled "L.A. Candy."

With a little trepidation, they go and as you can guess, the rest is history. Scarlett and Jane are paired up with two other girls whom they do not know and the show follows their lives as they unfold in Los Angeles. The girls are moved into a high class apartment, sent to parties, and followed at all times. Throw in some staged romances (though Jane doesn't quite realize they're staged, of course), some mani/pedi dates set up by the producers, and of course, plenty of girl drama, and you have your own "reality show."

What I liked about L.A. Candy was that it actually seems like it gives some insight into Lauren Conrad herself -- she writes from the perspective of someone who's been here and done it. And it's like a train wreck you can't stop reading. Perhaps best of all is the massive cliffhanger at the end that will indeed force me to pick up the second book in this trilogy to-be. That book is slated for spring 2010, as well.


Two other fantastic summer reads I've already blogged include Melissa Walker's Lovestruck Summer and the book I'm working on right now, J. Courtney Sullivan's Commencement.

What have been your favorite "summery" reads this year? There have been so many good ones that it's hard to narrow it down to just a few!

Continue reading...

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Twitter-style book reviews, part 2

I'm moving soon, so I've been frantically trying to read all of the books I have checked out from various libraries, books I've picked up at conferences, and books I've borrowed from friends and acquaintances. What this means is that I have started many books but not finished any of them. At present count I'm reading twelve books. Because I haven't actually finished any, I can't post a full-fledged review, but I decided it would be worthwhile to highlight some of the more interesting and noteworthy titles. So, without further ado, what I'm reading now in 140 characters or less.

Liar, by Justine Larbalestier

After her boyfriend is killed, pathological liar Micah says from now on, she’ll tell only the truth. Interesting psychological YA with a twist.

, by Carolyn Jessop

Carolyn Jessop’s story about her life in the FLDS, her subsequent escape, and what happened afterward. Simplistic writing, compelling story.

The Secret Life of Prince Charming, by Deb Caletti

Quinn discovers her womanizing father steals more from the women in his life than their hearts. Sometimes slow YA, but has real insight.

A Kiss in
Time, by Alex Flinn

Teenage boy wakes up Sleeping Beauty in modern times. Hilarity and confusion ensue. There are better retellings, but this is fluffy and fun.

The Knife o
f Never Letting Go, by Patrick Ness

A germ kills off all females and causes men’s thoughts to be broadcast. One day, Todd discovers a quiet in the Noise. Fascinating YA dystopia.

Continue reading...

Sunday, August 16, 2009

After by Amy Efaw

One thing I love about reading is that I can step inside the mind of someone in a situation I will never know about and experience it. In some instances, this gives me an objective view, while in others, it's clear how the author or the character wants you to feel.

Amy Efaw, in After, does an incredible job of making you swing all over the place in your feelings on a very sensitive topic.

Devon made a mistake. Rather than seek help or come to terms with it, she dissociates. She is so far removed from herself and her actions that she doesn't give her actions a second thought. One night of fun led to this pregnancy, but nine months of hiding it and removing herself from it brought her to dispose of the child -- IT -- without a second thought for consequences.

After follows the days after Devon, a straight-A soccer star, disposes of her baby in the trash. It sounds horrifically gruesome, and while the story does present the gory facts, what Efaw does is build a character that readers continue to question. I can't explain the number of times I felt sorry for Devon or believed that she might be, believe it or not, an innocent person. Unlike most books which follow a typical arc in their development, beginning with characters, then rising action, then a climax, then the falling action, then the conclusion, Efaw begins at the climax and works downward. This makes for the powerful character development and the total blast to the reader in terms of character sympathy.

What impressed me most about After was how well researched it was. Efaw leaves an author's note at the end about her research into the dumpster baby phenomenon, as well as about her research on juvenile institutions. Clearly she knew a thing or two, too, about the medical world and about the psychology of individuals in tough situations. But what made all of this best, of course, was how lucidly and well she wrote the story. It's not prescriptive, per say, nor is it over the top. Instead, it's powerful and moving for the reader because of the situation and because of how Devon is both likable and hateable. Maybe more than anything, she's relatable, whether or not readers have been in her precise situation.

I would wholeheartedly recommend this book for anyone 15 or older. It's not just about the teen pregnancy issue, either. The lessons about actions and consequences is important, and I think Efaw does a huge service in portraying a "normal" girl in such awful situations. The media and our greater world portray these incidents as things that happen in isolation or with "bad people." Efaw highlights that these things can happen to anyone. This is entirely refreshing ... and alarming/awakening.

After is not a fast read. It took me a week because it is intense. I was never repulsed, but the issue is so heavy and dealt with through such integrity that it just required a lot of time to sink in. I needed to think about Devon and about her mother, the baby, her lawyer, and the situation as a whole. My conclusions about Devon ended up being matched well, but it really took me a lot of time to figure out how I felt about her. But the book itself? Efaw earns high marks from me, and I definitely cannot wait to see what she writes next. I'm almost hoping it takes her another 5 years to put out a book because she did so expertly research this one. It's a refreshing change from a lot of recent teen books that seem rushed, under researched, and perhaps unrealistic. This one, though? Powerful.

Continue reading...

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Double Take, Part VIII

I subtitled this post "Double Takes in Unexpected Places."

This is Sarah Quiqley's new book TMI. It was published April 16, 2009 by Dutton. Memorable cover, I think!

Imagine my surprise when I was at work and stumbled across this ad in one of the professional journals (sorry for the less than spectacular scanning job):

It's the same girl! They've just changed her hair color. Same exact hair style, same expression, and same colored eyes.

I prefer Quigley's cover, actually. I think the blonde hair looks too fake. The brown looks more realistic. But how fun to run across this one!

Continue reading...

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Lovestruck Summer by Melissa Walker

One of my biggest responsibilities as a librarian is purchasing books for teens, including the fiction, graphic novels and manga, and non-fiction. I try to stick to materials reviewed in the professional journals, but sometimes I think it would be valuable to purchase a couple of things that have gotten strong reviews in the blogosphere because many of the bloggers I enjoy reading are teens themselves. Lovestruck Summer was one of those purchases I made that deviated a bit from my methods in that I'd read only a few reviews but it sounded interesting. I figured, too, I should give it a read before shelving it in order to get an idea who it would appeal to and to get an idea how to sell it.

I am SO glad I bought this one.

Lovestruck Summer by Melissa Walker has all the signs of a classic summer romance story: a fun cover, a character bent on having a summer love story, and lots of music. But this book is so much more than your typical summer read. Walker develops lovable and memorable characters, and her main protagonist, Quinn, goes through a major life change in the mean time that will resonate with so many readers in their teen years.

Priscilla -- and please call her Quinn -- just graduated high school in North Carolina but had always been fascinated with the music scene in Austin, Texas. One late night, she called her favorite record company in Austin at 3 a.m., not expecting an answer, and was pleased when someone picked up the phone. When she asked if she could intern for the summer, she got a yes. Without a second thought, her plans for spending a summer interning at Amalgam Records were set.

Quinn will spend her summer living with her cousin Penny who attends the University of Texas and is a major sorority girl. Penny lives on a fruit and candy diet, has a dog that has its own bedroom and wardrobe, and, ugh, a cowboy neighbor named Russ who will certainly drive Quinn nuts. When Quinn finds out that the manager of Amalgam Records has no recollection of her calling and being offered an internship, she thinks her summer might be much longer than she planned living with this cast of people who are so different from her. But perhaps when the other intern Jade helps her find the perfect guy to be with this summer, Sebastian -- think indie music loving, aloof, and oh so cute -- things will maybe be just as she planned.

Over the course of this book, though, we see Quinn being Quinn: when things don't go her way or when Russ or Penny or Penny's sorority sister Chrissy drive her nuts, she pops in her earbuds and drifts away from her situation with the newest obscure band that she is sooo into. That is until Quinn begins seeing people for who they really are and begins to understand that perhaps she has set up too many walls and beliefs in her life. Who knew Jade -- the indie loving hipster intern -- could get along with sorority girls like Penny and Chrissy? And who knew Chrissy could be a tough-as-nails derby girl? And ... could it be possible that Russ, the cowboy who loves country music, could be her perfect man and not Sebastian?

Lovestruck Summer has incredible character development in it for what could otherwise have been a typical girly romance. Quinn is so easy to love and is so perfectly developed for a high school senior. Too many books written for teens develop great characters but so many of them are just unrealistic age-wise. Quinn, however, is perfect: she is stubborn, sure of who she is, and sure of who and what she is not. She's at that stage of development where she is wholeheartedly selfish but lovably so -- throughout the story you find yourself wanting to shake Quinn and tell her to look at how awesome things could be for her if she'd just take a risk and step outside her comfort zone.

Penny and Chrissy, who could have so easily become stereotypical sorority girls, are wholly developed and interesting characters themselves. What Walker is able to do in this little book is make the reader rethink her own beliefs about people in a way that makes you grow and open your eyes like Quinn. When Quinn first got to Penny's condo, I had one of those moments of wondering how the heck she'd survive. But then as I learned more about Penny, the more I liked her and the more I wanted to know about her. And I won't get started on how great Russ was and how much I wanted to shake Sebastian. And Jade, who was a secondary character throughout the story, was the perfect way to tie all of the pieces together and make Quinn have her revelation.

Lovestruck Summer is also great because it is such a clean read, too. There's romance, but nothing too steamy happens -- it may be hinted at but nothing happens "on screen" and younger readers may never catch on. Language is never an issue in the book, with only one real swearing incident I remember and it was used in a realistic, non-shocking situation. Again, Walker make this book so true to the characters in this age group. I loved, too, the use of music throughout the book as a way to make a few points; again, the attitudes surrounding music were so true to people of this age group.

And for purely selfish reasons, I loved the setting. I thought Walker depicts Austin in the way that Quinn believed it was. Quinn went into the situation thinking life would be oh-so-easy living in sunny, music loving, and laid back Austin, but she had the realization that no matter where you are at, people still have challenges and one of the biggest is overcoming one's own beliefs.

I would hand Lovestruck Summer to teens 15 and up without a problem. This is the perfect summer read, but I think it'll also be a hit in the depths of winter when a good book of escape is needed. I think the message of transformation is so subtle that it won't hit readers over the head but might make them think about themselves a bit -- and that in itself is precisely what Quinn does. I think a lot of teen girls will see themselves in Quinn, and I think others will see themselves in Jade. And it won't hurt that Russ is dreamy, either!

My only real complaint about Walker's book is the awful, under descriptive, and misleading book blurb on the back. I think that might be a turn off for readers because it talks about the book revolving around Austin Music Fest. It also says that Penny willingly goes by "Party Penny" (I don't remember that happening once in the book!). The description makes Quinn sound way too young and immature, even for someone who has this sort of voice throughout the story.

I'm glad I made the purchase on this one, but I think it'll need some hand selling because of the backside blurb. I stepped out of my comfort zone on the purchase and ultimately walked away with a good feeling, almost like Quinn.

Continue reading...

Monday, August 3, 2009

Whatcha Hiding?

There have to be a billion covers like this, particularly recently. Here are three that stand out to me without even having to try looking hard:

Sovay by Celia Rees was published October 2008 by Bloomsbury USA. She's getting ready to cover her mouth with her collar (a turtleneck shirt collar or a scarf - it's not entirely clear to me).

Shrinking Violet by Danielle Joseph was published May 2009 by MTV publishers. Clearly, she's covering her mouth with her shirt collar in this one. And perhaps this is the same model from another angle -- you know how if you go into stock images, many offer similar images, this seems like one of those "similar images":

At Face Value by Emily Franklin was published in October 2008 by Flux.

Know of any others? I like the last cover best, probably, but all of them follow the theme. At least these are a little more memorable on their own.

Continue reading...

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Write Stuff

One of the coolest things that technology has enabled is the ability to communicate with our favorite authors. We're able to blog, twitter, and email our favorite writers and often, we get responses. For bloggers, we sometimes even have the pleasure of having authors email or comment on our own posts -- and let me tell you, waking up to an email from someone like Blake Nelson or a thoughtful commentary posted on Bill Konigsberg's blog really makes your day.

What really excites me, though, is when these authors are so encouraging of talent. Back in April, Maureen Johnson hosted a "Blog Everyday April" (BEDA). During BEDA, Johnson encouraged her fans to really get into blogging by committing to blogging once per day. Not only did Johnson take the time to create this challenge, but she spent hours of her time creating "BEDA Buddies" to match participants up with other participants to help everyone make it through a month of blogging.

This month, Laurie Halse Anderson is encouraging everyone to write for 15 minutes a day for the month of August. To help those who have writers block, she's also posting prompts every day, and she has been Twittering in earnst to support the budding writer spirit in those who talk about it but never quite find the time.

I bring this up on STACKED because it's important to spotlight writers who have a bit of sway in the young adult world and use it to encourage creativity. Too often the value of tapping into the creative spirit is lost in the day to day world of teenagers (and adults!). These two are clearly not the only authors supporting this, but the ability to reach out through technology to motivate writing, blogging, and engagement is laudable. If I can be so bold, I believe that this sort of support is precisely part of why they remain highly influential and highly respected among young and old readers.

Are you taking part in Anderson's challenge? For 15 minutes a day, I think it's a great investment for the writer and non-writer alike! Encouraging literacy and involvement in literacy-raising endevors is precisely what the librarian does, and when others jump in -- those who have more wide-reaching power than the librarian -- it's hard not to get excited about what the future holds in the drive and desire for creativity, literacy, and knowledge.

Continue reading...
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