Friday, April 30, 2010

Getting Poetic

I've always been a writer and reader of poetry. It stared in middle school for me, and the hey day of my poetry passion came while working in an online forum for teen poets. Out of that came this collection of poetry by many of the people I was spending time with every day. If you can get your hands on a copy of it, I highly recommend it. The writers in it will blow your mind, and many of them are still writing and publishing.

When I saw Time You Let Me In highlighted in a recent review journal, I knew I would find some real gold in here (especially given the respect that editor Naomi Shihab Nye commands). And let me say, this collection does not disappoint.

Nye brings together 26 poets, all under the age of 25, in a collection of moving, insightful, and beautiful poems that cover the spectrum of topics, styles, and voices. Each poet and each poem is unique, with the sort of artistic eye only people who are under 25 can bring. I say that as a 25 year old, which makes it legitimate, right?

A review I read of this title criticized the voices in Time You Let Me In as "young." I would hope so. The insights one gets in poetry from the youth perspective is just as important as the "established" poet (i.e., your old white men to whom you are comparing these poems to). I'll be honest in saying I never once felt I was reading teen angst poems.

Highlights for me included Chase Berggrum's short and pointed pieces, Gray Emerson's disregard for traditional stylings and zesty word play, Margaret Bashaar's treatment of humor and romance (perhaps one in the same), and -- perhaps my favorite -- Kayla Sargenson's grandfather memories. Sargenson has a very powerful poem equating rape with New Orleans that will haunt me for a while, and thanks to the masterful editing job by Nye, I was able to read the next selection of Sargenson's "The Happiest Moment of My Life was When I Realized I was Happy" a little bit differently.

Anyone who has a background in poetry knows one of the biggest challenges in collecting works is exactly how they will progress within a volume. It is a struggle, as your reading of one poem will inform, enhance, or detract meaning from poems following. Nye deserves the highest praises for balancing the order with meaning.

If you haven't gotten your poetry reading in for the month, pick this one up. While it's a quick read, you will find yourself lingering over passages, words, images, and sheer use of language and space. Here, you'll find both the humorous and lighthearted and pieces crying out for understanding and explication.

Read this one for yourself, then pass it on to your biggest teen poetry fanatics. This is one you'll be eager to share and discuss.

Continue reading...

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Covers change the story

Remember this post, a long time ago, about changing covers on Judy Blume? My coworker and I got to talking about the changing covers of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice -- check out what vibes these different cover portrayals give the books:

Our main character look young. The cover's a bit dated, but it looks classic.

This one looks like a fun ball, no? I love the blue and black with pink contrasts.

Good models on this one, for sure.
Twilight inspired? I mean, the quote at the top says "The Love That Started It All." That wasn't Romeo and Juliet? Alas, this one has no people and gives an edgy vibe.

This looks like a sweet read, no? I love how Austen's name is central here.

This is a standard B&N issue. Looks a classic, and the girl on the bottom left looks angry about it.
Steamy romance inspired?

A total classic look.

Another "classic" look. Wait for the contrast with the next two:

This is my FAVORITE and one that has total appeal to a certain audience. I'm toying with buying a copy of this one for my teen department, since I think it would expose new readers to Jane Austen.

This gorgeous cover is apparently a rare find from UK's "Book of the Month Club" copyright 1996. It took an hour to find an image of it, so it's borrowed from Ebay (obviously, I kept the copyright on it there). This is my coworker's favorite, and I have to say, it is beautiful. Just compare this one to my favorite -- two entirely different takes on the book, no?

Do you have a favorite? Do any speak to you more? I - gulp - have NOT read this book, so I can't give an opinion on content to cover matching. But that last one I'd pick up in a heart beat (as I would pick up the one I can't locate an image from -- think gorgeous old pink dress).

Continue reading...

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Snowball Effect by Holly Nicole Hoxter

The premise sounded perfect to me: a blue-collar town with a working class family struggling with a lot of tough issues. There's romance, there's drama, and what promised to be an intriguing road trip to turn things around. Your classic teen coming-of-age novel with a character you know will resonate with a lot of teens, The Snowball Effect is Holly Nicole Hoxter's debut novel. But as much as 18-year-old Lainey Pike will be the person teens are drawn to, the situations in which she finds herself may ask a lot of your teen readers who are growing up reading the characters and situations of Sarah Dessen, Elizabeth Scott, Deb Caletti, and Susane Colasanti.

Lainey's mother has killed herself, and Lainey now finds herself with her adoptive special needs brother Collin and a lot of hurt and anger. While it's true she's angry at her mother for what she did, she's more angry that this is not the first thing she's done to disappoint: Lainey's mom had been irresponsible forever and had caused a lot of mental anguish for her teen daughter...and the daughter who has essentially left the family to find herself in other parts of the country. But it's that death that ends up bringing Vallery back to the family.

In the midst of this, Lainey begins to feel distanced from her long time boyfriend and mega hottie Riley. Actually, never once is he referred to as mega hottie, but for all intents and purposes, that's how I see him. He's into cars and sports, so let's go with it. When she's feeling this distance, Lainey runs into a guy by accident -- Eric -- and as you will probably guess, they begin to find themselves liking each other a lot. There's a metaphor in the book about different flavored snowballs that speaks to the issues within the book, but I mostly found myself really angry that Lainey was so into herself and situation to think that snowballs only existed in the Baltimore area. Actually, they began in New Orleans and are alive and well in Texas. I digress.

Hoxter's story focuses on the importance of cultivating relationships and letting past transgressions live in the past. I think a lot of what she says in her story is important and I think it's done in a way that will not be like hitting a reader over the head. Rather, it settles at the end of the story.

That said, I did not find myself liking any of the characters. Although I read a number of reviews that Lainey is actually a great representation of people who have dealt with a lot of tragedy in their young lives, I felt like the other characters needed a lot more development. Vallery, who was supposed to be the older, wiser, and "motherly" sister in the situation, ends up getting very childish in the story, and not just because of the situational issues. Instead, I found she was written much more like Lainey's friend than sister, and it never worked. And Collin's role in the story just irritated me: I wanted him to disappear since he was clutter. While this works in the context for understanding what makes Lainey's life tough perfectly, I felt like Lainey was developed strongly enough on her own that it was really unnecessary.

Riley and Eric were kind of one and the same to me, but this is not anything totally different from most books of this ilk. Riley does sweet things to win Lainey back at the end, and I did remember what his life's interests were, so maybe he was a little stronger than Eric, who sold magazines and ate slurpees (or snowballs, but don't get me started).

But here's the kicker: I felt the entire last 1/3 of the book was not well developed or as coherent as the first 2/3. I thought the beginning slogged along a bit as we got to learn Lainey's life situation, but this pacing was very important to the story. When we get to the road trip -- another point of Vallery's status as friend rather than caretaker/older, wiser person (which she states she is when she relocates to be with Lainey) -- it just felt sloppy. Collin was kind of a prop here, and it was all too convenient that the road trip was to Orlando, where Lainey could conveniently meet up with her relatives. I just wish this were longer or were done differently. I think a lot of readers will find it to be too convenient a way to wrap up the story that is so clearly about difficulty.

The Snowball Effect may not have been my favorite read, but it was done well and was one of the stronger debuts I've read this year. I think that Hoxter may have found an interesting niche, too, by focusing on the working class lifestyle. Think about your standard realistic fiction fare: they're almost all middle class or wealthier characters who never have to worry about a next pay check. Sure, the family lives are unstable and that is something to take with consideration, but I can't remember the last time I read a story where the socioeconomics were so different. Most of the time it's actually not even brought up, so to have it come up is refreshing. I work in an very blue collar area, and I believe these are the sorts of stories my kids could really, really relate to (and what do I know - the moments I felt were moments I needed to suspend my belief may be completely real to this audience). Again, the readalikes are easy to suggest. Call it the mega hottie effect.

Continue reading...

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

What I'm Reading, Twitter Style

Gimme Shelter by Mary Elizabeth Williams: Non-Fiction story of finding the perfect house to buy, things never work out right & places are never what they seem. Totally up my alley.

Blankets by Craig Thompson: Another one of those books I've never read & KNOW I should. A "classic" to the graphic novel world that, too, has seen its share of critics.

Scars by C. A. Rainfield: Colleague told me to buy and read ASAP as our holds lists for this title have been growing steadily. Realistic fiction about sexual abuse.

Just Listen by Sarah Dessen: A Dessen not read yet, but falls on an awards list. As the title suggested, I'm listening to the audio of this one & hope stronger than AFtR.

Amy and Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson: Debut title follows Amy & her mother's friend's son Roger (her age) as they hit the road. Told in more than traditional narrative, looks fun.

Continue reading...

Monday, April 26, 2010

AudioSynced: Thrillers!

One of my goals this year is to read every title on our state high school awards lists, the Lincoln List and the Read for a Lifetime list. I've read a healthy number, but certainly not all, so I set in to listen to one on audio I thought I'd have a hard time digging into in print form: Harlan Coben's Hold Tight. Coben is a very popular author of thriller-mysteries, which is exactly what this title was. And if you know anything about me, it's not really my genre. But thanks to a fantastic audiobook, I quite enjoyed it and would certainly go back for more.

After the suicide of his friend, Spencer Hill, Adam Baye has become more and more distant. Rather than handle it idly and face the potential same consequences as Spencer's parents, Mike and Tia Baye -- Adam's parents -- choose to install spying software on their son's computer. They never thought of themselves as the type to distrust their son, but they didn't want to take any chances here, either. A suspicious message appears a few days after the software is installed that worries his parents and prompts them to take action.

Oh, and Adam has now gone missing.

As any parent trying to put together the pieces in the death of her son, Betsy begins to seek an answer through Spencer's networks. In browsing online, she stumbles into an online memorial set up by his friends; it is here she finds a photo taken the day Spencer killed himself. Adam may be in the photo, too, but it's a little hazy and she knows she needs to talk with Adam to find out more. It is clear he had something to do with this.

Hold Tight weaves together many family lives into a fast paced story that never once left me a bored listener. I felt for the Hill family, but at the same time, the actions of Betsy left me with a bad taste in my mouth. I was at once able to sympathize and understand the Baye family's spying decisions, but when things really get rolling and the mystery began to unravel, I got angry with them. It was too little too late and a clear violation of privacy.

What Coben does in his book that just worked so well for me was building characters you both love and hate at the same time. As a listener, I was able to hold contradictory thoughts about these characters and even with the story was over, I still feel the same way. Not only that, but Coben's magic is developing a large number of plot lines and keep consistently interesting characters; he manages, of course, to make them work together in the end, but throughout the experience, I kept trying to anticipate how things would merge and it was never as expected. A true thriller.

Listening to this book was the right way go to. Scott Brick narrates much like you'd imagine a 40s radio broadcaster to read -- there is mystery, a little jazz lilt, and a feeling like you're in that smoky bar getting the facts first hand. He gives a semi-voiced reading, though the semi is very true: only a couple female characters have a different sound to their narration. It never feels weird nor do the transitions ever get confusing. I quite preferred this stripped down audio production, as it let the story tell itself. Brick didn't need to make the story; he just delivered it. The sound and editing were consistent and seamless.

Hold Tight definitely will appeal to fans of thrillers and mysteries, but I think people who aren't connoisseurs of those genres will find a lot to like here. There's great writing, strong and interesting characters, and a lot of ethical issues with which to grapple. I never felt this got overly dramatic or stretched on too long. Quite frankly, when I got to disc 9 of 10, I really was concerned the story wouldn't wrap up and I'd need to quickly seek out the second book in the series. Luckily, I was proven wrong. This is a standalone, powerhouse of a story.

As far as being on the state list for teens, I think this will be a big boy hit. But it might be a hard sell to many readers. I'd find it difficult to recommend this title to a teen I didn't know well because there is a lot of violence, a lot of adult situations, and more that wouldn't make me too comfortable to blindly recommend. For the older teen boys, though, those might be the exact reasons this will be an easy sell (not to mention Adam and Spencer are 16 or 17) and the bonus is that Coben's written quite a few more books in the genre. Love one, look for more, right?

Continue reading...

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Line by Teri Hall

Any reader or librarian can tell you that after paranormal fiction, the second most popular style of book to be published in the last few years is the dystopian novel. We can thank books like The Hunger Games for that trend.

But like any genre, there are some hits and plenty of misses. For me, The Line straddles the line there. For me as a reader, I was never once convinced and I had some other gripes, but for the upper elementary age audience, this might work quite well.

Rachel and her mother live on The Property, which is owned by Ms. Moore who runs a greenhouse in the backyard. The Property is close to The Line: a border which is meant to keep the Others in Away. That is, it protects citizens of the United States and detracts those from outside from ever venturing in. The US had been attacked from the outside before and this was its means of having total control of borders and of its citizens.

Rachel, being young -- age never given -- is curious and wants to explore. As she does more and more research through their version of the internet on this so-called Away place, she wants to see it for herself. But her mother Vivian will make this difficult by reminding her of her deceased father, the hierarchy of society in the US, and ultimately the story of why they are living on The Property.

But will Rachel listen to her mother or will she take her fate and curiosity into her own hands?

The Line has a premise and a conspiracy element to it that spoke well to me, but ultimately, I found that Hall's writing relied far too heavily on telling me, rather than showing me, about this dystopia. Never once did I feel like I saw or discovered anything for myself as a reader. Instead, I was hand-held through explanations from Rachel's mother and Ms. Vivian about this world and why things are the way they are. I was a total outsider and had to put my trust into their versions of the history, and never once was I convinced. But I had to be because there was no other way. It was a bit alienating and off-putting, so I never found myself wanting to care about Rachel, her mother, or Ms. Moore. It never mattered because it would just be explained away in a few pages.

Tension in the book never happened, again as a result of the telling-rather-than-showing writing employed. When we are introduced to a new set of characters about 2/3 of the way through the book, it was jolting, but I never found myself really wanting to know more about them. Rachel did, but since I was so removed from Rachel, well, you get the idea.

The language and writing in the book itself is simplistic, and Rachel seems to be very young. I believe this is the sort of book that would appeal to the crowds reading Lois Lowry's The Giver, rather than the crowds reading The Hunger Games. I mean that in terms of age, not necessarily interest. This is a good thing, as this isn't a bad book. It just doesn't work particularly well for those expecting something akin to other well-known dystopian reads, as older and wider readers likely are. But I must also interject here that those younger readers may find themselves boggled with the political issues that arise in the story; they may not be mature enough to understand some of it.

Since The Line is the first in this series, I think that might have huge appeal for the younger readers, too. There's a lot that's laid out in book one that lends itself to plenty of opportunity for future volumes. I'm half wondering if this is the sort of book that requires reading all of the volumes at once to get a real appreciation for the story and style; it could be the case that Hall purposely makes the first book a tell-rather-than-show so she can pull a cord and switch the course in the next book. Time will tell.

I'm waiting on a number of loose ends, including the greater purpose and meaning of the green house on The Property in the next story. Rachel is forced to be a sort of apprentice in it, making her a god-like character. I anticipate this to play a large role in the next book, and it is certainly something I am eager to read more about.

Although certainly not my favorite book and though it has a number of faults, I do plan on picking up the second book when it pubs. I wish this volume would have been a one-off, with more depth and development that I'm anticipating in the next one, but because of what seems to be the intended audience (young readers), maybe this is a better route.

Continue reading...

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Favorite books vs. favorite authors

I was asked a question last week that made me really think -- and now I pose it to you, wonderful readers.

Do you have a favorite author or authors? Who are they?

For me, I have fewer favorite authors than I have favorite books. Favorite authors of mine include Aimee Bender, Douglas Coupland (with the exception of his last few books), Laurie Halse Anderson (for her writing and more for her advocacy of reading and of libraries), Donna Freitas (who I blogged about Monday), and Melissa Walker. I can only name a few, and in answering the question, I drew a bit of a blank.

It's like being asked to talk about yourself -- here's your warning that psychology speak is coming. Our brains are built with connections between ideas, and when we are so intimately familiar with ourselves, being asked to ferret out a few facts to describe ourselves is hard because all of our ideas of ourselves are tightly bound.

This extends to readers, too. Big readers have a hard time pulling out just a few favorite authors quickly because we are so connected to so many.

Ahem, moving back to the point at hand.

I am more of a "favorite books" than a "favorite authors" person. The books themselves become more a part of me than an author does when I am reading, and thus, while I am conscious about who is doing the writing and like to know more about them, it is their work that ultimately sticks with me. I say this, of course, as I partake in a debut authors challenge. Perhaps that's just it: it's hard for me to feel confident in having a favorite author who may only have published one work or had only one big hit for me. Books stand alone and feel "safer" as favorites.

So tell me readers, who are your favorite authors? Do you play preference to favorite authors or favorite books? Does it matter?

Continue reading...

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Field Notes: Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

Two teens, both named Will Grayson, meet in a porn store. One's a loner and one has a big gay best friend named Tiny. What could possibly happen?

Will Grayson, Will Grayson is the first collaborative effort from John Green and David Levithan. It is a humorous story about finding yourself and finding love.

This is going to get me some hate mail, but, neither author is among my favorites. But I can say I'm glad to see John Green has ventured away from his same story line of geek boy seeking the mysterious girl, though I thought his Will Grayson was much less dynamic and interesting than Levithan's. But his Tiny? Hilarious. I didn't know he had that in him and I'm glad he let him out.

WG, WG will appeal to fans of either author, though it will certainly not be a great starter book for those who haven't read either Green or Levithan. The book's appeal with be with those who like humor and those looking for something totally different for their reading palate. I don't like stereotyping people, but I think big-time theater geeks who proudly label themselves as such will get a real kick out of this book.

This will not appeal to readers who don't like reading the, well, ridiculous. Both Wills are developed characters, as are the ancillary characters, but the story itself is something out of this world. Be prepared for overuse of particular expletives and for very frank discussion of sexual acts (within a context of teenage humor!).

Just remember: you never know what can happen when you meet someone with your same name and you never know how that can impact your best friend or your love interest.

Continue reading...

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

AudioSynced: Don't Forget!

Don't forget: AudioSynced is back at Stacked this month. Get your blog on about all things audiobook this month and share your links with me.

Not sure what to write or need some inspiration? Check out our first installation of this from February or our second from March. Let's make April, the month of rain, sun, poetry, and libraries, our biggest AudioSynced yet.

Continue reading...

Monday, April 19, 2010

This Gorgeous Game by Donna Freitas

It's not too often you come across a book that you read and wonder why no one has ever broached the topic before. For me, Donna Freitas (author of the fantastic Possibilities of Sainthood) has done that in her forthcoming title This Gorgeous Game.

Olivia is a good girl, who attends Catholic school. She and her family are devout, and they have deep respect for Father Mark, one of the most well-known and admired members of their church/school community. Father Mark is quite well known as a writer, and it's through his first annual student writing contest that Olivia has the opportunity to be mentored by him and take one of his much sought-after college writing courses. For Olivia, it's initially a dream come true.

Unfortunately, it doesn't go as it should. Instead, Father Mark has begun to ask a lot of Olivia. He wants her to meet him at a bar to talk about writing, and he begins to call her, text her, and show up in the places she's known to frequent. Olivia keeps being told she needs to give up her friendships and hobbies if she wants to be taken seriously as a writer and scholar, but what is truly terrifying to Olivia is the lengths Father Mark goes to get her alone with him.

This Gorgeous Game refers to the title of a manuscript that Father Mark has written. The story? It's the story of an older man falling madly in love with a younger girl. This is when Olivia knows she needs to do something.

Freitas weaves a fantastic story of power abuse, both in the sense of an older man taking advantage of a younger girl and in the sense of a man of power within the church using that status to behave inappropriately. This book never once steps into sexual abuse, which is perhaps what makes it most terrifying and realistic. Instead, Olivia is constantly at war with what to do because she has no hard and fast evidence of Father Mark's creepo habits. In the moments that she tries to talk to her mother and her sister Greenie, she's brushed off because they are of the belief Olivia has an incredible opportunity to work with such a revered man, and since she is young, she doesn't quite gasp that honor yet.

A very sweet romance emerges in this story between Olivia and a boy her age, too, and it is him who ultimately helps her speak out. There's a bit of obvious symbolism within this itself, but it never once felt overworked. Rather, I think it is quite a service because it will give some readers of this book so much more to dig into. Although this book is not one I'd label Christian or Spiritual fiction by any means, the clean story, the symbolism, and the important messages are going to resonate with readers of those genres. Readers of realistic fiction or coming-of-age stories will find this a worthwhile and memorable read.

Quite frankly, this is a story I will not forget for a long time. I've read a lot lately that won't stick with me, but This Gorgeous Game will: the story line, the characters, and the issues at stake here are all done expertly and without being overworked. Freitas keeps the story short and does not venture into a wham-bam ending. It's a quite ending perfectly suited to the story.

This Gorgeous Game will appeal to fans of Laurie Halse Anderson, Dirty Little Secrets by C. J. Omololu, and Nancy Werlin's Rules of Survival. This is a book that would work well in a book club, both at the teen and the adult level. It will tug at your emotions, as Olivia is a very sympathetic and utterly innocent character. As soon as I finished this title, I wanted to talk to someone about it; it begs to be discussed.

Donna Freitas, without question, has skyrocketed to the top of my favorite authors list. Her writing is fluid and lucid, meticulous and well-plotted. The adults, aside from Father Mark, are not bad people in the story either. Instead, it is another adult within the Catholic school that becomes Olivia's confidant. I read other reviews suggesting that characters like Olivia's mother were unrealistic, but I disagree wholeheartedly. I believe her mother and her sister are "star struck" in a manner that is all-too-common, and that the situation as a whole is terrifyingly realistic....and timely.

This Gorgeous Game will publish May 25 by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.

*Review copy acquired at PLA.

Continue reading...

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Dystopia Double Take

Here's an interesting double take. Both of the books are dystopias, and their covers are very, very similar to each other.The first book is Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. Never Let Me Go is a dystopia for adults, a book I read for an undergraduate class and fell in love with. It's set in the 90s in an English school called Hailsham, but of course, the school isn't your normal school, and the students have a purpose very different from learning writing and math. I think the cover is spectacular. It's a close-up of a young woman's face, her eyes gazing somewhere in the distance. While the book was marketed to adults, it's a book young adults would also enjoy, and it won an Alex award in 2006.

The second book is The Unidentified by Rae Mariz, a dystopia for teens to be published in October. (Apologies for the size, I couldn't find a larger photo.) This book is also set in a school that is more than what it seems. Despite this parallel with Never Let Me Go and the book's eerily similar cover, The Unidentified seems to much more closely resemble MT Anderson's Feed, so much so that I couldn't help but compare Mariz's book with Anderson's as I read the first two chapters of The Unidentified. (Judging from the first two chapters that I have read, I have a feeling Feed will win this battle handily.)

There are probably other covers out there that resemble these two. Do you know of any? Which of the two covers above is more effective? I have not yet finished The Unidentified, but I like the cover for Never Let Me Go better. Despite the flat affect apparent on the woman's face (which is integral to the book), her eyes are focused on something in the distance and seem to indicate some emotion or depth. The eyes of the cover model are clearly intended to be the focal point for the reader. The cover model's eyes in The Unidentified are partially obscured by the title text and it's more distracting than it is arresting. Still, the cover is what led me to pick the book up.

Continue reading...

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Daughters by Joanna Philbin

The wonderful people at Little Brown send great books to review. They made me paranoid this week, though, as two days after posting my comments about the publicity for Joanna Philbin's The Daughters, I not only received it for review, but I received the sequel for review, as well.

The Daughters is a debut by Joanna Philbin, daughter of Regis Philbin and the book itself seems written from some experience -- this story follows three girls, Lizzie, Carina, and Hudson, who are all themselves daughters of famous celebrities. In particular, we get the story from Lizzie's perspective as she deals with growing up with a world-famously beautiful model of a mother, Katia.

The girls are 14 and attend an elite high school, where all attendees are someone or are related to someone. When the school year begins, Lizzie runs into Todd -- a boy she had befriended many years before he moved to England with his family -- and he has moved back to New York City and will be attending school. Of course, romance blooms and fades, and we watch as Lizzie chases the boy and he chases her back. Will they end up together?

But this is more than a boy-and-girl-love-story. Lizzie has an opportunity to become famous herself through "ugly modeling," since she has none of the looks of her mother. She forges permission from her mother, and her career begins skyrocketing before she can blink. It's not what she imagined, and when she has to lie and cheat to maintain the lifestyle, she knows that it isn't going to be good. That, and the fact that the world famous designer who wants to use her criticizes her for not being a size 2 or size 4.

The Daughters is incredibly clean: I don't remember a single moment of swearing, and I believe that maybe there was a kiss discussed in the book. There are mean girls, a la books like The Clique, which makes me believe this will be a good sell to fans of that series.

What really bothered me throughout the book was that these girls were way too mature for 14-year-olds. Quite frankly, they were written as 17-year-olds and a lot of what happened required suspending a lot of disbelief -- at one point, Lizzie leaves school in the middle of the day because her mom sent her a text message that she was in trouble and needed to be scolded and then she just returns to class. Weird. This required me suspending my reality quite a bit to let the stretches work. I didn't want to give up the characters, either, so I let a lot slide by my reality radar.

But let me back up here a second, too. That will be the total appeal factor for the intended audience here. This book is perfect for the 12-13-14-year-olds. They are at the age they believe they are a lot older and more mature than they are, and I believe Lizzie and her crew are actually really good role models. They act too old, too, but there are consequences for their actions. This is sort of the realistic-fantasy that the age group likes to read about, and so I can see this working really well. Likewise, it's the sort of book I wouldn't have problems recommending since it is clean, the girls are mostly likeable despite their flaws, and parents won't have a problem with what goes on. Sure, there are a lot of parties, but never once is there alcohol or any bad behavior at the parties; in fact, I don't believe we ever hear what happens at them except that they happen.

Since there is at least one sequel, this is also appealing because fans will have more than one story to enjoy. And let's be honest: the writer, daughter of a respected celebrity, is parent-friendly, too.

On a totally superficial level, another huge draw for this title will be the cover. It is so reminiscent of older books like The Nanny Diaries and will again appeal to the fantasy 12-14-year-old-girls will love. The New York setting, the technology-saturated worlds, and even the dialog will fulfill their fantasies without giving them wrong ideas.

Ms. Philbin, thank you. This was not MY favorite book nor the strongest written, but this will fill a nice niche. I suspect many parents will also be thanking you soon enough, not to mention the girls who will thank you for a positive story that combines clique aspects, body-positive aspects, technology, and the lure/drawbacks of fame and fortune. Here's hoping that the second book meets these same high expectations.

*Review copy from publisher.

Continue reading...

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Getting graphic again

As I mentioned before, I'm taking a graphic novel course. This week, I tackled my manga assignment and did a little extracurricular reading I am very excited to blog.

Deathnote by Tsugumi Ohba and illustrated by Takeshi Obata is a manga I've read a little about before. And boy, I wish rather than reading reviews and stories about its history of run ins with censors, I'd actually read the manga. Take that to mean I may or may not have gotten a donation of most of the run of the books to my library and I let them go. Deathnote, at least the first volume, was really quite good.

A shinigami drops a notebook -- a death notebook -- into the human world, where it is picked up by 17-year-old straight-A student Light Yagami. Inside the notebook, he learns that this notebook is actually a death notebook that allows him to write the names down of people he wants to die. If he does not specify a method of death within an allotted time, the person whose name is written will die by a heart attack. To ensure that anyone named, say, Sam doesn't die, the person with the notebook must picture the intended victim to ensure accuracy.

When Light gets the notebook, he is confronted with the Shinigami who dropped it. A Shinigami is a death god (aka: the one who does the dirty business) and he informs Light that he is the only one who can see him. That is, the only person who knows who Light can off is the shinigami; however, were anyone else to touch the notebook, they would be able to see the shinigami and the gig would be over.

Being smart and thoughtful, Light decides to use the notebook for good and not evil -- he will be eradicating evil-doers. And he wastes no time in doing so. But the Japanese FBI will soon be hot on his case; even the evil-doers of the world don't deserve immediate death. It is all too suspicious when they are all dying suddenly of heart attacks.

Deathnote was a super quick paced manga that really felt like a story out of mythology. Much of manga is rooted in myth and legend, and I felt like Ohba really grasped onto that. I loved the illustrations, which moved perfectly at pace with the story line. The shinigam is delightfully horrific looking, and Light wields his power masterfully for what you'd expect of the top-performing student in the country. Although there is clearly some violence in the story line, I didn't think it was outrageous, nor did I find the concept of being able to kill with the deathnote as offensive as others have made it sound. I know this title is really popular, and I can see why: it's something we've all fantasized about -- not necessarily the killing part, but the power to do whatever we wanted without consequences. What a trip. I've already picked up volume 2 to continue this one.

As promised, here's your treat. This week, I was able to find the new Stephenie Meyer goody on my library's shelves -- the Twilight graphic novel. Although I haven't read all of the series, I have read Twilight and seen the movie. I feel educated enough to judge its merits as a graphic novel.

Let me just say, Young Kim deserves all the credit on this one! Twilight translates surprisingly well to the graphic format, and it is entirely due to Kim's abilities as an artist. The illustrations at times are photographic quality; more than once I had to really examine the art to see if it was a photo or not. Bella is well-depicted, and I think that it's a more realistic rendering than what K. Stewart gives her in the film version. She's imperfect and yet intriguing, and Edward is the same way. Both look their respective ages, rather than older as I think they look in the film.

I've read, though, some of the art may be photo-oped -- as a newbie to the format, this really didn't bother me. For die-hard graphic novels fans, this will probably be irritating. You can read a fan's critique here, and many of the points they make are clearly the opposite of mine.

Kim uses color very carefully here, and when it is used, it is stunning. The story in graphic format moves smoothly, though I found the use of the dialog bubbles distracting at points and even a bit garbled. A bit more editing would have been useful to make those issues less noticeable. Likewise, there were a lot of fonts used throughout the graphic novel, making that a little more distracting.

For Twilight fans, this is a nice companion, though I think some graphic novel enthusiasts will find a lot to like here. The story is good, but the art is what stands out. This will be a series, and I found myself at the end of this one clamoring for the second. Maybe that makes me an underappreciater of good graphic novels, but I'm an equal-opportunity reader. Bring on New Moon.

(If you ask, yes, I liked Deathnote more, so don't worry - I'm not even comparing them in the least!).

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Gardener by SA Bodeen

Admittedly, I am not much of a science fiction reader. When I heard about S.A. Bodeen's The Gardener, though, I knew I wanted to read it. I'd read The Compound and while it wasn't my favorite book, it's a book that my teens really enjoy. I was ready to see what Bodeen could do in her sophomore effort.

Mason, our main character, is a maverick. Of course, we won't know this immediately. It's something we discover when he steals a pass into his mother's work place -- a nursing home of sorts run by TroDyn, a large science corporation that has its hands in about everything in their Portland-area home town of Melby Falls -- and immediately spots a group of kids about his age who look completely comatose. What could be wrong with them, Mason wonders?

Of course, it doesn't stop at wondering and of course, it's the incredibly beautiful and flawless girl who somehow manages to convince Mason to free her from the home and save her. With his best friend. Mason does just that.

It's here that the story unravels into an incredibly fast-paced story of science, deception, and corporate involvement in science and humanity.

Did I mention Mason has a huge scar on the side of his face from an accident in his early child hood? Oh, and he doesn't know who his dad is beyond a DVD he stumbled upon in his mother's files of him reading The Runaway Bunny. Oh, yeah, and mom is hiding a lot of money from Mason, too, which he would love to use in college when he goes to study at Stanford.

I realize I've left a lot of plot out of this, but the short and long of it is that saying any more will ruin the suspense and the action that develops. The story is well-developed in plot, with enough twists and turns that kept me flipping frantically through the pages. TroDyn is an evil empire set on solving one of the world's greatest problems -- food! -- by doing something entirely unethical to future generations. Lalia, who is the girl Mason saves, will lead him into unleashing their secrets to the world. And it might just be his dad who has something to do with it. The Runaway Bunny also plays well into the evil-doing.

The Gardener will appeal to many readers, though hard-core science fiction fans will see many of the holes in the story. This will likely appeal to more reluctant readers, since it moves so quickly. We have a handful of well-developed characters who are interesting and encourage further reading.

My biggest problem with the book, though, is that we don't have well-developed character relationships. Solomon and Eve, who we meet near the end of the story, were introduced as partners, but there is a quick turnaround in that relationship that never once made sense to me. She went from his assistant to suddenly evil, and since I hadn't been introduced to either until the end of the story, that shift was never believable or easy enough to accept for me. I think since those two characters do play such a vital role in the end of the book that they could have been better sketched. I thought they were really interesting and was sad I didn't get more.

The ending of the book, which we work toward at such a rapid pace, is actually a bit of a let down. I felt there was an opportunity to go out with a real bang, but instead, it's kind of flat and undynamic. Mason the superhero never emerges where it could have been opportune.

A few plot holes are obvious, but because the story itself is interesting and unique, they are mostly forgivable. I thought they were quite similar to the holes I found in The Compound, which made me wonder if that's Bodeen's style. Most readers will suspend their belief in the story anyway, so forgiving the holes will be pretty natural.

Fans of The Compound will devour this title. I know my teens will really enjoy this one, and this is a title that begs to be book talked. And boy, if some of the ideas in here don't terrify you, then you don't watch the news quite enough.

*Review copy from publisher.

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

More Fake Fat Girls

I realize I bring this up a lot, but this is an issue that really needs to be addressed. This spring and fall will be bringing us more stories of accepting yourself as a fat person -- or in some cases, getting in better shape so you can accept yourself as you are. But as you probably guessed, we won't be seeing any fat girls. Check out the new selection of young adult titles that will bring you more of less.*

Fat girls love ice cream!

Fat girls can be stylish, like Veronica who loves vintage, but we can only show you the dresses while they're on the hanger.

We can only see the Designated Ugly Fat Friend's face, and she's actually quite attractive and doesn't feature anything fat about her. Oh wait for the new cover design for this one ...

YES! We have a face AND food (I'm classifying gum here as food). I love the girl's freckles, but seriously. She's still not a. ugly or b. fat.

I think that Bookshelves of Doom covered this one better than I can.

SERIOUSLY? Can we not put a fat girl on a cover, ever? I do not understand why this is so tough and unrealistic. Let me remind you of this and this. As has been shown with the covers of and Liar and Magic Under Glass, we can make a difference. We need people to speak out and speak up. This includes with our wallets.**

* Let me also add this: when we get into these conversations about fat girls on cover, we are also prodding an issue of thinness, too. Inadvertently, thin models and girls are going to feel attacked because of their body. It's unfair and not right on any level. There IS NO PERFECT, but this is misrepresentation or lack of any representation. It is a lose-lose situation for everyone. If we want to write the books about being ok with yourself, we should also show that fact.

** It's really a bummer to the authors, too, who work SO HARD to write these books. I'd be curious how they felt about the issue. We shouldn't punish them since they are trying to do something important.

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Monday, April 12, 2010

AudioSynced: War Dances by Sherman Alexie

I love Sherman Alexie. I read many of his short stories and poems in college, and I've read both Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian and Ten Little Indians. When I saw my local library had his latest collection of poetry and short stories available as an audio book, I knew I needed to pick it up. Aside from the fact I like his writing, I knew, too, he reads his own work. I knew Alexie had a very distinct voice, and I knew that would make this audio book really stand out.

And it did.

While leery at first of trying to listen to an audio book of short stories -- my thought was that the story breaks would be difficult to follow -- War Dances changed my mind. And quite frankly, listening to poetry aloud is the way it's meant to be enjoyed for many, and Alexie writes his in the way that's meant to be performed.

War Dances, like Alexie's other books, made me both want to laugh and to cry throughout. The mixture of poetry and prose moves seamlessly, and what really works well in the audio is that Alexie just reads with his own personal reading voice. He doesn't give any of his characters separate voices, though he does change his intonation slightly to distinguish dialog from description.

A couple of pieces stood out to me distinctly. A short story, actually one of the lengthier ones in the collection, follows the loss of hearing of the main character. In this story, he describes the process of losing his hearing by reflecting on his own father's life and end-of-life illness. The sound of hearing loss was like that of a colony of cockroaches taking up residence inside him. What I loved about this story was its homage to Kafka and how Alexie turned a well-known tale into something entirely new and refreshing. The allusion's slight, aside from the introductory quotation, but it is a story enjoyed on so many levels.

Like many of the GoodReads reviews mentioned, the poem "Ode to a Mixtape" was wonderful. That, along with the poem about giving up one's seat on an airplane were picturesque and such amusing insight into our culture today. All of the poems in War Dances can and would be enjoyed by those who aren't normally "poetry people" since they are easy to grasp and quite memorable because of the emotion they provoke in the listener.

What this audio book does, though, is give you raw Sherman Alexie. He has an incredibly different and perfect reading voice. Alexie has a tiny bit of a lisp and a bit of an accent. Lucky for you, WHYY Broadcast has an interview with Alexie on their website that gives us a reading of the first poem in War Dances. Listen to the incredible lilt of his voice. Four hours of his story telling could have been forty hours for me, and I would have still listened in. There is something really engaging in his imperfect voice that made me care about what he was saying and want to listen to more. Oh, and please ignore the commentator on this one - it seems clear to me she didn't read the book before interviewing him.

Don't believe this will be an easy collection to read or understand. There are some very difficult to grasp scenes, and the language at times is not necessarily what you like listening to. But those moments are what makes Alexie's points -- this is a book of stories about ourselves, the disgusting and the beautiful, the racist and the too-politically-correct, and moreover, the story of art and writing. The man is brilliant and certainly a modern master of writing.

I was sad to finish War Dances. It was short, but it was enough to whet my need to seek out some of Alexie's backlist on audio -- but only if it is read by him.

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Friday, April 9, 2010

Field Notes: Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins

What would you get if you combined Twilight's paranormal elements with Harry Potter's school of magic?

Something close to Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins.

This book -- part one of a trilogy -- follows Sophie as she is sent to Hectate Hall to confront her witchy side. Quite literally, that is. She's a witch who has used her powers wrong one too many times, and now her mom has sent her to get herself together.

But what Sophie discovers is that her family may be a lot darker than she first believed. And, quite frankly, she may not be a witch at all.

Hex Hall is not the most original book or premise, but what stands out is a rollicking hilarious main character. I found Sophie a breath of fresh air. She's sarcastic and drops a good allusion that is worthy of many chuckle.

Hawkins's book will appeal to paranormal or magic fans, but I think the real appeal will be to people who wonder what the big deal is with those genres. This will make you laugh and will leave you with just enough mystery to keep the story line moving. A couple of deaths -- or near death incidents -- and a suspect in the only enrolled vampire, who happens to be Sophie's roommate, propel the plot forward.

The ending gives enough of a twist to make readers seek out the second book. It's worth the read but it won't be the next great work, nor will it develop a cult following a la the books from which it lifts elements. Sophisiticated readers will be annoyed, though Sophie will redeem the book for them.

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Thursday, April 8, 2010

Getting graphic

I've read a few graphic novels, but I'm by no means an expert. Quite frankly, I'm undereducated in the format, so I signed up for a continuing education class through the University of Wisconsin's SLIS program. As part of the class, we're to read 5 graphic novels from a provided list; the overachiever I am, I have decided to tackle more than the 5 required (that's why I paid for the class, right?).

Since many kind readers have been asking what I'm choosing to read, I thought I'd give quick peeks at my reading and my thoughts. Up first: Fun Home by Alison Bechdel and Runaways, volume 1 by Brian Vaughan.

Fun Home is a graphic memoir of Alison Bechdel's life at home. More specifically, it's a portrayal of her father. Her father was a master of appearances, keeping an immaculate home and facade built for himself and his family. As Alison grew up, though, she began to learn there were many deep secrets hidden in the family that revolved around her father. He'd been involved in a number of homosexual relationships, often with men younger than himself.

What works so well in the novel, though, is that it is also a telling of Alison's own story of choosing to come out to her family. A handful of days following her decision to come out, her father was killed by a truck while crossing the street. As readers, we see parallels between her life and his, drawn out for us vividly in a way that text alone just would not render as powerfully.

Fun Home is a dense read. The language and the literary and cultural allusions some times went beyond my understanding, and I'm fairly well read. Whoever claims that graphic novels are a gateway to reading or are not deep has clearly not explored the format well. Bechdel's work is engaging and requires close reading and analyzing. The art worked well for me here. But clearly, not everyone has felt that way. This book wouldn't have worked any other way, and it's a shame that it has faced such backlash. Fun Home is memorable in a pained way, much in the way of David Small's Stitches. I'd consider them read alikes, though certainly for adults, not teens.

Runaways, volume 1 is the first book in a 10 or 11 book series -- I say 10 or 11 because the series keeps growing, and it now isn't primarily written by Vaughan. This is a series I knew a bit about prior to the class since it circulates so well at my library, and I'm regularly asked for the next volumes (which I, of course, purchase).

Runaways introduces a group of teens who find out one night that their parents are not who they think they are; they're much more evil. They witness their parents kill a woman, and now, they're out to get to the bottom of the story. Are they superheroes or evildoers?

Vaughan's story worked well for me, and it was compelling enough to make me want to pick up the next volume to find out what happens. However, I felt the art wasn't as strong as the text. It felt a little too juvenile for the story, which I found quite mature (and some of the allusions they make are, I think, beyond today's teens -- but clearly that isn't deterring them from picking this series up). I kind of feel like this series might be targeted at the 20-somethings, but I'd need to read more to figure that out. Likewise, the colors don't work so well for me, but they're pretty standard Marvel style.

Vaughan's book was a quick read, and as I mentioned, had enough to it to make me seek out the following volume, even though the art wasn't what did it for me. In Fun Home, I was drawn by both the story and the art, but in Runaways, it was 100% the story.

Have you read either of these or another graphic novel that just worked for you? I'm expanding my knowledge, and I'd love any good recommendations you have for me. At Stacked, we've reviewed three and discussed the value of them, but I've read a handful more and am always open to more.

Continue reading...

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Dirty Little Secrets by C. J. Omololu

Janssen hit something on the head last week in stating that there has been a lot of hype over a number of young adult titles lately that just don't live up to it. There have been some big budgets on a number of titles -- especially debuts -- that have left me wondering what the point was. However, one book has slid under the radar for a few months now, and it's thanks to a colleague across town from me that I picked it up and immediately decided I needed to order it for my library collection.

Dirty Little Secrets by C. J. Omololu, weighing in at just about 200 pages, packs an unbelievable amount in a short book. It is worth every minute of your time.

Lucy keeps secrets. Her best friend doesn't know them. Her soon-to-be boyfriend doesn't know them, nor will he. The secrets remain between her and her mother, as well as her distance brother and even more distant sister.

The secrets are the items her mother hoards in their home.

Lucy's mom keeps everything, from old, rotting food, to Christmas gifts meant to be given years ago. Her mother seems normal from the outside, working in a medical facility, but she is far from okay both inside her house and inside her own head.

Unfortunately, we never get to know Lucy's mother. She dies immediately in the book. But Lucy ISN'T sad about it. In fact, she's terrified that the secrets will get out, and she cannot imagine a fate worse than making the news for living in a house of squalor.

Dirty Little Secrets takes place over the course of just over one day. Lucy is a character who you will be unable to forget, as she drags the reader through emotional torment. At once, I feel sorry for her mother and hate her mother, but throughout the book, I was far more concerned about Lucy. I wanted her to be safe and get out, and I wanted her to overcome the troubles she had been keeping without ruining a sweet budding relationship with a boy. She'd never had one before, of course, thanks to keeping the secrets.

We are dragged through this house and the accumulation of things in this book, and in such a manner, we are completely invested in Lucy's safety. Although it would be easy to label her heartless about the death of her mother, we also see how this is a moment of liberation for Lucy. She covers her mother in a sheet and sets to getting things clean enough at home to make rescue less about the mess and more about the loss of life.

But it is her meddling sister that won't let this happen as she wants.

I can't write more about this book because the ending is completely unexpected and utterly fitting. Dirty Little Secrets left me near tears throughout the entire story, though the very end almost made me smile. I felt Lucy's decision.

Omololu's story never once feels rushed or overwritten. It was extremely well executed, and the pacing was spot on. When I was 10 pages from the end, I worried there was going to be a sequel to end the story; fortunately, a strong writer pulled off a surprise twist that makes this a stand alone knock-out of a book. It is completely realistic and explores a hidden world that we do indeed only hear about in the news. Although Omololu states she doesn't write from experience, her work is informed through her work with a hoarder's organization.

This book was so compelling and so important that I nominated it for ALA's BFYA consideration. It is my hope that it gets much-deserved attention that way.

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Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Patting oneself on the back

I ran across this while putting together an audiobook order at work this week:

It's small, so you'll have to open it up. For those of you who still can't see, it's the sales page for the May 2010 publication of The Daughters by Joanna Philbin (yes, it's the daughter of Regis).

But what's weird here is what's under it: the sales spot for the second book, which comes out at the end of 2010. And what does it say?

"Joanna Philbin presents the sequel to her immensely popular novel, The Daughters."

Apparently, the book has become a smash hit a month before it's even available. Sure, I'm aware it's possible, but that kind of advertisement is downright deceptive.

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Cover spotlights: Lurlene McDaniel

One of my favorite authors when I was a teen was Lurlene McDaniel. Yep, the overly sentimental, medical dramas* featuring teens who were dying or near death and, of course, in love. I was a teen during her heyday, though she's far from slowing down. Like Richard Peck, her covers have changed a lot over the years. What always seemed to work for her, though, was that her series books featured very similar cover styles -- and boy was she ever the series writer! I loved them.

I though it'd be fun to take that walk down memory lane:

Six Months to Live 1985

Hold Fast the Dream 1985. Nothing speaks 80s romance like the sepia tones, the big hair, and two dashing men, one clearly good and one clearly evil.

Why Did She Have to Die? 1986. Perhaps this is one of the first covers featuring the "things being held" theme that is so popular now.

A Time to Die 1992

If I Should Die Before I Wake 1992. I'm afraid that still wouldn't apologize for the shorts...

Reach for Tomorrow 1999 (and book #12 in the "One Last Wish" series, still holding onto the similar cover theme)

Angels Watching Over Me
1996 (book #1 in the series featuring an Amish family - my favorite series of hers)

Angels of Mercy 1999

The Girl Death Left Behind 1999

Journey of Hope 2004. This combines two novels, Angel of Mercy and Angel of Hope. This is the first of her books starting to change direction in cover art.

Angels in Pink: Kathleen's Story 2004

Angels in Pink: Raina's Story 2005 (the hair in the face!)

Briana's Gift 2006. Things in hands again.

Prey 2008. I LOVE this cover. It is so creepy and yet so perfectly gives an idea of what the book will be about.

Breathless 2009. Interestingly, my co-booktalker talked this book in the winter. She didn't know Lurlene McDaniel was a pretty prolific writer for teens prior to reading this. It's so different looking from her other titles.

Heart to Heart 2010. Reminds me of an adult romance for sure.

What do you think? Are you a Lurlene McDaniel fan? Any cover favorites?

* This doesn't mean they're not good books; they're definitely of a specific drama that has such appeal to teens. I still like her books, since they're quick reads with at least one strong and memorable character. And some aren't even medically-related. Those were the ones that I ate up like crazy, though.

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