Friday, July 30, 2010

AudioSynced: Don't Forget!

Don't forget! AudioSynced is almost here. This month, Abby (the) Librarian will be our fearless host. If you have anything audiobook related, share your links here or over on her blog, and we'll get you into the roundup.

Didn't get to review or talk audio books this month? Never fear: we'll be back at STACKED September 1.

Listen on!

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Thursday, July 29, 2010

You Wish by Mandy Hubbard

What would you do if you woke up the morning after your birthday -- let's say your 16th birthday -- and outside your window was a giant pink My Little Pony? Or what if the next day your former favorite toy, Raggedy Ann, suddenly was life size and became your constant companion? If gumballs took over your room?

Or maybe the worst: what if you thought you would be the reason you lost your best friend?

You Wish begins just before Kayla's 16th birthday, which her mother -- party planner extraordinaire -- will inevitably mess up. When Kayla blows the candles out of her big pink cake, she is disappointed: this wasn't the party she wanted, and her best friend Nicole is too busy with her new boyfriend (and Kayla's long-time crush) Ben. That is when things get crazy in her life. Literally. We'll watch as each of her former birthday wishes come true, leaving her more and more worried about what will happen when her biggest secret wish, kissing Ben, comes true.

Mandy Hubbard's new title will please younger teen readers: it is sweet, a little sassy, and full of mortifying (...and hilarious) moments. The book is squeaky clean and would be an excellent book to recommend to fans of Lisa Greenwald's My Life in Pink and Green, a title that my patrons adore. Kayla is a typical teenager who wants to fit in, keep her best friend, become girlfriend of her biggest crush since elementary school, avoid her crazy mother, and to have the most memorable 16th birthday. Fortunately, she'll achieve many of those things, despite the presence of an overly doting Ken, the magical dirt bike, and spotlight stealing Ann.

I must admit, though, this wasn't my favorite book. I never was quite convinced of Kayla's persona: she was a little too scattered for me, and a lot of the things she comes to realize about who she is never quite made sense to me. That is, I never felt she was rebellious at school, which is something that will be rectified at the end of the story. I struggled, too, with Kayla's maturity: for a 16-year-old, she acted much more like a 12-year-old, making me believe that had she been written younger, this book would have a readership MADE for middle schoolers. I think her being 16, though, might turn off some librarians, parents, and younger readers from picking up this title and enjoying it. Additionally, Kayla's relationship with her mother never came together at the end for me; I felt there was some missed potential to give us a stronger mom figure or a stronger reason to dislike mom, but instead, she was more of a tool than a fully fleshed character. And finally, I never got resolution of or understanding why things ever happened. We know it has to do with a birthday cake, but the time frames, the events, and the ingredients never coalesced for me. But perhaps that's all a part of the suspension of belief.

What I loved about this book, aside from its total clean factor, was its magical realism. I don't think there are enough books for this age group that are willing to be a little silly. We have an overwhelming number of issues books, covering everything from suicide, to hoarding, to eating disorders, to abusive parents. While we have genre fiction (besides vampires), but there really is little that spans a little of both the real world and the magical world. I'm glad Hubbard tackled this sort of story, and I think that alone will give it some staying power.

This is a quick moving story once you pass the first couple of chapters. I anticipated the strange to happen, and making it through the first few chapters was challenging, since it was primarily setting up our characters. But for most readers, this won't be difficult because as soon as the action begins rolling, the story flies.

You Wish will work for fans of Greenwald's previously mentioned book, but I think it'll also be a nice title for fans of Raina Telgemeier's Smile, Wendy Mass's 11 Birthdays and Finally, and even Ally Carter's Gallagher Girls series.

You Wish will be available August 5 from Razorbill.

*Review copy provided by publisher

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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

What I'm Reading Now

In 140 characters or less, what's on my bedside table, in my car stereo, and blaring from my boom box:

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, by Stieg Larsson
Third in the famous Millennium trilogy, and so far the weakest. Seems like there’s no mystery left, but Larsson keeps writing anyway.

The True Meaning of Smekday, by Adam Rex
I thought Rex showed promise with Fat Vampire, so decided to try his middle grade book about aliens. So far it’s amusing and more cohesive.

Alchemy and Meggy Swann, by Karen Cushman (audio)
Excellent narration and Cushman’s trademark amusing curses – Ye toads and vipers! – bring the streets of 16th century London to life.

Cleopatra: A Life, by Stacy Schiff
Fascinating biography of a woman about whom we actually know very little. Includes info about the honored royal practice of murdering one’s family.

First Light, by Rebecca Stead
I enjoyed Stead’s Newbery winner, and I hope this one, about the far North and a community of people beneath the ice, will be just as wonderfully odd.

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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Giveaway winners

We've got a couple of giveaway winners to announce. was feeling lucky #3 today, as both winners were the third entry in the contest.

First, our Courtney Summers Twitterview giveaway went to Jen Petro-Roy

Our AudioSynced giveaway winner of Eragon is Stacie.

Congrats - winners have been emailed. Don't forget: you have until August 1 to enter for $60 to CSN stores still!

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Read Local

Once in a while we like to feature other blogs and websites, and today we've got one that was passed on to me by one of my local publicists, Lisa Roe. After a stint in New York City, she moved back to Milwaukee to strike out on her own.

Her big project now is one that makes me super excited: Reading Local Milwaukee. This will be THE spot for all things reading and book related in the Milwaukee and surrounding area.

Not in Milwaukee? Never fear. The Reading Local brand has more than one location; other cities include Austin, Portland (one of the more active sites right now), Los Angeles, and more.

I've always been envious of my friends in the Chicago area who have a well bred network of readers and local bookstores that give high publicity to reading events. It looks like some of us in smaller cities (or, in my case, the country near the city) have something to look forward to, too. While it's still quite now, pop your city's Reading Local into your RSS for what promises to be a wealth of local information coming very soon.

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Monday, July 26, 2010

AudioSynced: I Thought You Were Dead by Pete Nelson

So, I might have spotted a theme in my audiobook listening: talking animals. When I heard that Pet Nelson's I Thought You Were Dead featured a talking dog, I was sold, thinking it would be similar to The Art of Racing in the Rain, which I loved. Although these make for wonderful read alikes, they are ultimately different and touch on different topics (though, I'll say this up front: the dog will inevitably die and I, as a listener, may have cried more than once while listening).

Paul Gustavson divorced a few years ago and his inadequacies linger in the back of his mind when he is engaged in a relationship with Tamsen. But his relationship with her is not exclusive: she is also seeing another man, an arrangement that all three parties are okay with. Paul's not wild about diving into the dating pool whole heartedly and he's not quite sure how much he feels for Tamsen yet.

Meanwhile, Paul's father has a horrible stroke, and Paul must travel back to his family's home just outside Minneapolis (he's in the northeast). Paul blames himself for the stroke, too, believing that because he didn't get back to his father about the ideal snow blower that the stress his father exerted in shoveling the snow caused the stroke. He cannot win and lives in a state of beating himself up over everything in his life that is not entirely of his control.

Enter Stella.

Stella is Paul's golden, well on in her years. has seen him at his best and at his worst. She's his best friend, and he dotes on her. Although she's the voice behind some of his decisions, particularly when it comes to Tamsen, she is more of a reflection of Paul himself: we see through her Paul's growth and realization of self throughout the novel. She's well used and not overused, as she doesn't have a particularly large role in the story. But simultaneously, she is the story.

Over the course of the book, we will see more than one relationship end, and we will see the blossoming of other relationships. There are some weighty themes introduced in the story, stemming from family history. I literally found myself at points laughing and at other points crying. Listening to this book took a while for me, simply because I didn't want to spend my morning drive in the car getting misty-eyed.

I Thought You Were Dead is a story about relationships, both those you make yourself and those that are made for you. Moreover, it's a story of one's relationship with oneself. I found Paul to be a really likeable guy, despite some of the things he did and decisions he made. Paul has a big issue underlying a lot of what has happened in his life, and he is ultra competitive with his rich, perfect brother. Throughout the story, I found myself pulling for Paul endlessly.

The story unravels slowly at first, as each character is well-fleshed; however, once the story reaches the end (discs 5 and 6, the last two), it felt a bit rushed. I wish Nelson had spent a little more time with his characters and how their stories came back together. Paul's father drops a bombshell that explained a lot of Paul's life and I wish more clues could have been dropped earlier on.

That said, I thought Stella served a good purpose, and I quite liked Tamsen as a character, despite not seeing her too much. She wasn't afraid to tell Paul to get himself together, and she was patient and loving with him, even though he had what he believed to be a Major Issue that impacted all of his intimate relationships.

I owe thanks to Josh Clark, the narrator of this audio, for making me care about Paul. Clark's reading had an innocent undertone to it, and I was immediately interested in Paul and why he acted as he did. Although I'm not generally a fan of male renditions of females, I liked his husky rendition for Tamsen and I thought he did a good job of portraying Stella. His voice was pleasant to listen to; I don't know if I would have made it through this sort of story if I had read it on the page. Instead, Clark got me engaged. You can hear a clip of his reading here. His even and steady tone worked.

While I Thought You Were Dead will not be everyone's cup of tea, I thought it was one of the better adult fiction titles I've read lately. It will make an excellent read alike to The Art of Racing in the Rain, minus the philosophical dog. Stella's a little blue collar, if you will, but the story of relationships and how we live among one another will resonate with readers.

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Friday, July 23, 2010

Double Take, Part XXIV

We are probably all familiar with Scott Westerfeld's Uglies series. It looks something like this:

It's a great cover that stands out. I love that the series is consistent looking and they all pop on the shelf.

Here's the UK cover. I quite like this one, too:

I love the light blue and the tin of body parts.

And it has a twin in Sarah Harvey's 2010 release of Plastic, a title from Orca Publishers:

They mirrored it but kept the same background color, which I think is an interesting choice.

I think both covers work quite well. The aqua against the silver tray stands out, and I love that the doll parts show off more than one skin color.

Do you have a preference?

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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Glimpse by Carol Lynch Williams

I have a love-hate relationship with verse novels. Despite knowing how hard of a format it is to do successfully, sometimes it seems to me the easy way out of writing a novel. This is the feeling I struggled with when I began Carol Lynch Williams's new title Glimpse: the verse made little sense to me initially, but fortunately, it begins to make complete sense as the story forges forward.

Hope walked in on her sister Lizzie holding a gun and threatening to shoot herself, and it is that scene that causes Lizzie to be sent away to a mental health facility for the summer. This summer drags long for Hope, as she and Lizzie had always been close. Not only that, but dad was gone and mom's new job forced Hope to leave the comforts of her home quite often. Mom had to make money some how, and her method of choice involved a new man every night.

When Hope and her mother visit Lizzie, she is extremely strange around her mother. But with Hope, she tries to act normally. Hope is on to something -- she knows there is something much deeper going on with Lizzie than she or her mother will let on.

It's the diary that will tell it all. But just how will Hope be able to track down Lizzie's diary in the house her mother made them abandon?

Glimpse is a fast-paced story that, despite its pacing, requires a slow reading to pick up on the clues of who Hope and Lizzie really are. Although I didn't predict the ending, it was foreshadowed quite a bit throughout the text.

The verse format's sparseness is perfect for the story telling, as the clues to Lizzie's breakdown and desire to kill herself are pepper throughout but only, well, sparsely. The haunting and mysterious tone of those novel mirror that, as well. As a reader, I feel at once removed from the situation and entirely close to it -- but never close enough to put my finger on it. The reader is really Hope, pulling together the broken pieces.

Our narrator here is reliable because of this. I initially didn't feel much for Hope, but as things began getting stranger with her mother and Lizzie, I began to really sympathize with Hope. The powerful ending made me want to remove Hope from the entire situation, and it made me feel a lot for Lizzie, who I initially saw as selfish.

Glimpse is a powerful book to follow Williams's prior title, The Chosen One. She has a powerful eye for crafting realistic characters and gripping situations, and I think that Glimpse is a title we'll be hearing about come awards time. This will appeal to fans of Thalia Chaltas's Because I am Furniture, though I don't know quite how much Ellen Hopkins fans will find this satisfying -- it's got some grit, but it is not in the same category as Hopkins's titles. It'll also work well for fans of Julie Ann Peters and for fans of the realistic fiction (but not necessarily "issue" driven) titles.

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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Tweet Heart by Elizabeth Rudnick

There is something to be said about a book that is ultra contemporary: it is fun! I picked up Tweet Heart by Elizabeth Rudnick on a recommendation and rave from dear Alea and am so glad I did.

Tweet Heart follows four friends, Claire, Lottie, Will, and Bennett through their series of Tweets on Twitter, as well as a few blog posts and emails. There is nothing more to it in terms of story plotting, as it all unfolds through social media. Claire is crushing hard on a guy named JD while Will is seriously crushing on Claire but can't get her attention. Enter his plan to pretend to be JD on Twitter and you have a romance that you don't expect will happen and will leave Claire tricked and disappointed.

You wouldn't be too far off on that for plot, but there is a lot more to it -- JD DOES end up giving Claire the time of day, but it won't be the same JD she was tweeting with. When the bomb drops about who the "real" JD is ("real" as in the one playing him on Twitter and the one who is a boring, one track minded jock in person), things among the four good friends will shift . . . and it might be to everyone's benefit.

Tweet Heart was a cute, fluffy read that I really found worked well with the Twitter platform. The quick bursts really gave each character a distinct voice and made their personalities work well; in fact, I found some of the additional stuff -- the emails and blog entries -- almost distracting. I think the book would have functioned well completely without them.

This book made me think a lot about the studies that come out, oh, about daily, stating that teenagers aren't using Twitter. Whether or not that is true, I think that this book will reach a teen audience easily, as teens understand how the social media platform works, and I think they will connect with these completely plugged-in teens. Besides that, they will also connect with the trick Will plays as they recognize themselves in either his position or Claire's position; if not themselves, they likely know someone who has been in either of those places.

We have four unique characters, too: the girl who wants a boy who she believes is out of her league; the girl who has no problem meeting and dating boys (she meets one while on a family trip in Europe but it fizzles out from distance, but no fear: soon after, she's found another guy while at a department store); the guy who has a mad crush on the first girl; and the guy who is a big, lovable dork. I think Bennett, the unabashed geek, was my favorite character.

It's a clean read, too, with no language or adult situations. This is the kind of book any teenage girl could pick up and enjoy without having to worry about reading something uncomfortable. There's enough thrust to the story line and the format to interest a wide variety of primarily female readers -- from those preferring Jenny B. Jones and Cindy Martinusen-Coloma to those who prefer Simone Elkeles.

While this one won't have huge staying power, I think it'll get a nice readership for a few years. I hope Rudnick publishes more titles, though not necessarily in just this format; I think her style and her true-to-life dialog will resonate with teens. Though I didn't initially plan on purchasing this one for my library, I ended up purchasing a copy for both branches because of the wide appeal, unique format, and relatability that readers will have to these four likeable and flawed characters.

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Oh, your windswept hair!

Maybe this series is better described as the Beiber effect on girls? I want to hand many of these ladies a hair brush.

The Dead-Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan. This is what the cover was supposed to be, but it ended up being changed before publishing.

Breathless by Jessica Warman. This one's at least swimming.

Girl in the Arena by Lise Haines. I guess being ready for battle gladiator style can make your hair messy.

Banished by Sophie Littlefield. Oh how I want to push it out of her face!

The Frenzy by Francesca Lia Block. If your hair is that beautiful a color of red, I guess you can cover your face in it.

Keep Sweet by Michelle Dominguez Green. I have a feeling the girl in the story actually has longer hair than this. But I digress.

Ravenspeak by Diane Lee Wilson. Another pretty red head, but this time the hair covering her face with a horse attacking the brain doesn't even make sense.

Birthmarked by Caragh O'Brien. She looks electrified. Maybe she put her finger in a socket?

Blindsided by Priscilla Cummings at least gives us a reason: the main character is blind.

Thanks to Janssen, here's another:

It is indeed impossible to see like that.

I hope this is a trend that stops soon. You scratch up too many book jackets trying to brush their hair. I haven't even touched on the books where the wind is sweeping a girl's hair away from her face ala this and this and this.

There are more of this style flying around (oh ho ho!). Share them if you know of them.

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Monday, July 19, 2010

Sea by Heidi Kling

Remember when you were a kid, and you would wait patiently (excitedly) for that toy you just knew you'd get for Christmas or your birthday and then when you got it, it wasn't what you had wished for in your mind?

For me, that was Heidi Kling's much anticipated debut novel Sea. That's not to say it was bad or that there isn't a readership here, but that's to say for me, it didn't work and I was quite let down.

Sienna Jones lost her mother in a terrible plane accident a few years ago, and the thought of flying terrified her. But, since her dad worked for a non-profit that helped children in overseas countries, she knew it was a part of her world and she'd need to confront this fear sooner or later. It'd be sooner, though, when dad surprises her with a plane ticket to Indonesia to help him with his efforts in preparing children orphaned by the Asian Tsunami become more independent.

She was, of course, not interested, but after a talk with long time friend/crush/boyfriend Spider, she decides she'll go with her dad and his friend/crush/girlfriend/"mom replacement." When they land and are welcomed to the orphan house, Sienna locks eyes over the drumming with a local boy with whom she will fall madly in like with. Yes, in like.

In her crush-like manner, she will do anything to be with him, including hop a plane to another part of the country in order to help him locate his father (he'd heard rumors he was still alive). Bad idea, of course: there is no dad, but someone else from his past has crept in and suddenly, Sienna is much more alone.

What worked well in this story was a unique foreign setting. There are so few mainstream books written for teens set in a foreign country. This, paired with the contemporary issue of the Asian Tsunami, kept me compelled and forced me to continue reading this title. I loved the setting, and I thought that Kling did a good job of weaving in cultural norms and discussions of how customs in other countries are just as valid and important as those in America. Sienna was a bit of a brat, and I think Kling did a good job of setting her straight.

But for me, that's about where the good ended. I found there was more for me to dislike than like here. Sienna is an irritating character, who I wanted to smack more than one time. She was full of herself and bratty in a manner that reminded me more of an adult writing what they perceive as teen angst rather than a teen who sometimes is moody. I found the ancillary characters completely flat, particularly the boy she meets and falls in love with in the most cheesy manner. I can't even remember his name.

Moreover, the writing itself left much to be desired. What may have sounded unique or may have been included to set a scene was clunky and confusing. There is a recurring statement about the "orange popsicle haze" of the sky, and it never once really resonated with me. I get the orange popsicle coloring, but the haze? It didn't work for me. A number of other similes or metaphors used through the book came off more as confusing than effective, and the use of the drum beat for love came off more as cheesy than cute.

That said, Sea has a built-in readership that will find the characters and storyline compelling, and they will get a lot out of the setting here. It's a fluffy read, perfect for summer, and because it has little in the way of language or sex, it'll work for younger teen readers and those who prefer their stories clean. I wish it had a little more heft to it, since there was so much to work with from the setting, but I'll have to wait a little longer.

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Sunday, July 18, 2010

CSN Store Giveaway

If you didn't get a chance to win a gift card to the CSN stores giveaway a few weeks ago, you're in luck. We have another $60 card to give away.

This time, I'm lusting over some of their cool table lamps like these:

Seriously, how cool is that? It's a chinese food take out box style lamp.

I love the pattern and bright colored shade on this one. Perfect for an otherwise plain room.

If I didn't have cats that would destroy anything that looked remotely like a toy, this would be such a cool lamp to have on my table.

Don't need a table lamp? CSN has over 200 stores you can shop in. They have a little of everything.

Want to win $60 to one of their stores? Fill in the form below, and we'll pick a winner August 1. You must answer the final question, as I will delete any answer that is not complete. Good luck!

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Friday, July 16, 2010

I am Number Four by Pittacus Lore

When the first ring appears around his ankle, John gets a little scared. When the second appears, he's full-out worried. But when the third appears, his life is at stake.

John is a member of the Garde -- one who develops legacies -- from the planet Lorien. He and eight other Garde from the planet Lorien are the only ones to survive the takeover of their home planet from the rival Mogadorians. The Mogadorians have destroyed their own planet and chose to take over Lorien for their own gain and wipe the native citizens out.

John and the fellow eight survivors have come to Earth, a planet much like theirs, and they have spread themselves out in order to not be found together. The Mogadorians are going to find them on Earth, but the more dispersed they are, perhaps it'll take longer -- especially since they have to be killed in order. And despite their being spread out, they will know when others have been killed by the rings that will appear on their ankles.

I Am Number Four picks up as John discovers the third ring on his ankle. He and his guardian Henri, a fellow Lorien who will not develop legacies (and thus referred to as a Cepan), must abandon their lives on the Florida coast and move somewhere completely new. It'll be Paradise, Ohio, this time, where John will develop relationships with his fellow classmates in ways he never has before. John is finally old enough now to find a girlfriend and to understand how important relationships with people his own age are. However, Henri will warn him repeatedly that this might not be a good idea, since their lives in Paradise are certainly impermanent.

Pittacus Lore is the pseudonym of a pair of writers, James Frey (of A Million Little Pieces fame) and Jobie Hughes. This title was highly buzzed at this year's BEA, and interestingly, it was a late add to the Harper fall catalog. Perhaps that has to do with the fact this was already in film production, with the movie slated to his theaters in early 2011.

I Am Number Four was worth the 440 page roller coaster. This was an incredibly fast paced, action-filled novel that sucked me in immediately and kept me engaged right through to the end. I found John and Henri's planet's history interesting and it was just enough not to bore me with details. I did not get confused about what was happening, nor did I feel like I didn't get enough history to understand why they had to do the things they did. It was a perfect balance of their past with their present situation to keep me going.

I found that John was a completely relatable character, despite being an alien. He had real feelings, and I thought he had real feelings toward his classmates (even Mark, his immediate arch nemesis-turned-good-friend). There's enough thrust here to make what happens at the end -- which I promise is hugely action-paced and kept me reading well past the time I should have stopped -- even more immediate.

The one big issue I had was that Sarah, the only female who makes more than a quick cameo, is a flat and voiceless character. She's got no interests of her own beyond John, and I feel she was a little too quick and flighty in accepting the truths he tells her. I wish she was a but more of a challenge to him in the way a real girl of her social status would be. And to answer the question my husband posed to me while reading, yes, aliens and humans can have relationships, and children they produce are super geniuses (think Ghandi, Thomas Jefferson, etc.). Pittacus Lore thought through this pretty thoroughly.

I Am Number Four will make an excellent movie, and it's one I will definitely see. When I finished this volume, I immediately went to find out when the second book will be released (Spring 2011) since I will continue into this series. This appeals to both genders, and I think it will have special appeal to teen male readers who haven't had anything spectacular thrown at them in series form for a bit now (Alex Rider and Redwall are still hot in my library, but they're not especially new, whereas girls keep getting vampire romances and other series aimed at them). Likewise, there are some greater themes in this book, too, including the importance of keeping one's home planet safe and "green" -- the Mogadorians ruined their planet while the Lorien kept theirs alive through love and thoughtful use of and recycling of good and products. Since both species can share Earth, I think the message is pretty clear we can decide our own planet's destiny.

And don't worry: there are plenty of secrets and magical powers to be revealed throughout. John is in for quite the surprise on more than one occasion. Bonus points on this novel for having virtually no language issues (there is one instance, but that is where one chracter tells another it is not okay to be profane) and the romance that develops between John and Sarah is totally clean. There is some violence, but it's nothing beyond what you'd see on daytime television. We don't even cross into prime time violence here.

You can check out this website for more insight into the book, the movie, and into aliens. I learned Wisconsin is one of the top ten places for UFO sightings...something I might have to spend a little more time investigating, as well.

* Review copy won at BEA.

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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Orange is the new black

This post got me thinking about cover colors. There has been an explosion (haha) of orange covers lately. Have you noticed? Check out their list, which I can add quite a few more to:

I love orange. It stands out so well. But maybe this one's jumped the shark. I think next summer, one of my bingo squares for the teen readers will be read a book with an orange cover. Seems like there's plenty from which to choose!

What's your take on this trend?

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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Rose Sees Red by Cecil Castellucci

How would you spend your last night in New York City if you knew you'd be heading back to Russia in a matter of hours? What about if you'd been living in a compound in New York City for two years and never got to chance to see anything in your adopted town? Moreover, what if you were constantly afraid to leave because you might be caught by the CIA or the KGB during the Cold War era when sentiments between Russians and Americans weren't exactly the best?

That's precisely the place where Yrena is when we meet her in this story as she sits on her porch stoop. But let's back up a little bit first. For many years, Daisy was her best friend and they did everything together. Daisy was a bully friend -- the kind who forced Rose to adapt her mindsets and beliefs in order to maintain their "friendship." When Rose would stray, it would be fear that caused her to snap back into following Daisy's beliefs. But when Daisy finds out that Rose has lied about quitting dance and will not be joining her at the Science Academy for high school, but instead she'll be going to the Performing Arts high school for dance, that's when their friendship is done and over. There are no second chances for lying, and Daisy is not going to let Rose forget this. Any chance she gets to snub Rose she will take.

Needless to say, Rose feels low. She feels she has no friends, nor does she have the capability to make them. She's alone, save for her brother, who is head-over-heels for the weird and beautiful girl next door whom they walk by each day on their way to school. She never goes anywhere besides her front porch. The same porch that is constantly seeing the feet of CIA and KGB agents walk by it.

That is, until one night she raps on Rose's window and invites herself in. Although put off by this boldness, Rose invites her in and then invites her for ice cream. And when ice cream isn't enough, Rose chooses to be bold and attend a party many of her classmates were attending (and had actually invited her to) at the Metropolitan Museum with Yrena. But once Yrena attends, she states that she does not want to go home, and when Rose finds out it's because she'll have to be going back to Russia, well, the night will go on and on and on.

Rose Sees Red moved quickly for me. I was immediately sucked in, and I quickly found myself sympathizing with Rose. She reminded me of so many teenagers who feel the need to fit in with their friends, sacrificing their own passions in order to fit in. I was rooting for her wholeheartedly, though, when she mentioned she didn't actually stop dancing but instead, she did it in secret. Her audition for the Performing Arts school struck me, as I feel Castellucci hit on emotions in those scenes that will affect many readers -- we've all been there when we just can't muster up our best when we have the ability to, but the moment the spotlight's off, we can be spot on. Fortunately, it works out for Rose.

Yrena intrigued me from the beginning, and despite really liking this title, I didn't feel I got enough of her. I wanted to see her kiss Rose's brother (whom she mentions throws wild parties in Rose's basement regularly -- and Rose informs her is actually him and his friends playing Dungeons & Dragons). I wanted to see her do more and I wanted to know more about her dancing; she, unlike Rose, wants to quit dancing, but she is not allowed to do so. I wanted more of Yrena's family, since they were interesting off-page characters.

But you know, it made me like Rose. It made me realize I couldn't know them well. I only had the one night, as well, and all I knew was that the war outside America was just as much a war inside her borders: Americans and Russians had tense relationships, to the point of regular investigations from both the CIA and KGB right in New York City. I didn't know this happened right in this country, and the fact Castellucci was able to make me intrigued about this period in American history should say something about the story she's developed (did anyone else go through American history classes in high school and college only ever making it to the World War II? Clearly nothing's happened since, right?). Adding to that sentiment, I think it's great she tackles a time period that hasn't been written about much, and I think that the emotions she gives Rose and Yrena, as well as the rest of the high schoolers in the book, play into similar feelings we have now as war rages on in the Middle East.

This is a short book at about 195 pages, and it is a relatively quick read. It's one powerful night, and as we all know, those fly by. We want more. We yearn to capture as much experience as we can. But we can't. And I think anything else in Rose Sees Red would be too much.

Now onto a couple issues: first, it is not mentioned until far too into the book that it takes place in 1982 New York City. Young readers will not pick up on this time period, as it comes off as fairly contemporary. The CIA, KGB, and references to Russians living next door will likely go over their heads in terms of plotting a setting, since the courses they take in school often do not get this far in American history. I wish Castellucci had been a little more upfront about it. This isn't a familiar setting for most readers.

Likewise, I'll let Abby's review do the talking of the other minor issue I had, which was that this felt at times like an after school special. But, selling this book correctly will give it appeal to the right audiences. This is a title I'd talk to high schoolers without a doubt, but rather than selling it in terms of history or in terms of the "one-last-night," I'd sell it as a story of friendship. Rose feels lonely and has lost her best friend, but she comes to discover through her adventures that she is a completely likable person and that the people she goes to school with are dying to get to know who she is. She is talented and passionate, but it took some self-investigation and the following of her own dream of dancing to realize this. I think *that* is the message that will resonate with readers. The rest is gravy.

Rose Sees Red will be available in August. This is one I plan on hand selling and book talking to readers, as well as putting onto handouts (we have one for books with particular girl appeal that includes a spot on friendship). I think it's going to find a nice readership, and I believe the completely appealing cover art will help it fall into hands, as well. Castellucci's name recognition, of course, will help as well.

*Review copy received from the publisher.

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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Fat Vampire, by Adam Rex

In Fat Vampire, our protagonist Doug is a nerdy, overweight teenager,who is made into a vampire and has to cope with the changes in his life that the transformation brings.  There's a lot of vampire lit out there, and I tend to stay away, since I've gotten more than a little tired of it.  Then I found myself on a plane flying home from BEA with a backpack full to bursting of books, and Fat Vampire was the one on the top.  So I picked it up.

And surprisingly enough, it was really good - at first.  So many marketing campaigns tout the newest paranormal teen novel as a fresh take on the trend, but for the vast majority, it's nothing new.  Fat Vampire, though, was actually pretty fresh.  In the world Rex has created, becoming a vampire doesn't automatically make you a hottie.  Instead, Doug is going to be stuck as an overweight, acne-riddled teen - forever. Cue the normal amount of teen angst times a hundred, but done in a very funny away.

The beginning of Fat Vampire is hilarious.  Doug, being a generally good guy, doesn't believe in attacking live people for their blood.  So instead, he gets it from somewhere else - a blood drive van at a ComicCon he attended, for instance.  And animals at the zoo.  He's told his best friend about his condition, and the two of them wreak hilarity throughout the first portions of the book attempting to deal with Doug's vampirism.  There's also plenty of moments that make any nerd-inclined reader (such as myself) grin.

And then, a good ways into the story, many, many things happen in rapid succession:  Doug is spotted by a security camera drinking an animal's blood, and a vampire-hunting show picks it up, seeing it as their first chance to catch a real vampire.  An exchange student named Sejal arrives in town from India with a whole host of her own problems, and she eventually runs into Doug.  Doug is invited into a local vampire mentoring program and is introduced to a shady vampire character who is meant to initiate him into the vampire life.  Doug begins hearing rumors from other vampires (including the one that made him) that killing your maker will turn you human again.

All of these elements (tv show, mentoring program, weird new vampire mythology, the exchange student) are just too much for one book. None of it gels together into a cohesive whole or really goes anywhere. It meanders on to a bizarre ending that left me scratching my head.  I think Rex was trying for something new with the way the story ends, but like the rest of the book, it didn't work for me.

That was my first objection with the story.  The second is that Doug undergoes an abrupt transformation into mega-jerk (and that is an understatement - he's pretty abusive) about halfway through the book, and we're not really given a reason why.  It's understandable that he may grow power-hungry, but it's not done subtly, and it's not really expected given his previous characterization.  This made Doug so unlikable I almost didn't finish. I'm not a reader who can enjoy a book with such a thoroughly unlikeable protagonist.

I do think Fat Vampire, which will be published on the 27th, has some good things going for it.  For one thing, I like the cover and think it matches the story perfectly.  Beyond that superficiality, Rex has a really engaging style and great dialogue.  I flew through the book in a couple of days.  It's also clear that he can be very, very funny.  I think the book needed a little more work for it to succeed.  It might be good for more forgiving readers who, like me, have grown tired of the vampire trend but still remember what they enjoyed about it in the first place.  While I can't really say that I thought the book was good, I found enough things to like about Rex's writing style that I picked up The True Meaning of Smekday, his previous novel that has received positive reviews.  I have high hopes for it.

ARC provided by the publisher.

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Monday, July 12, 2010

AudioSynced: Golden Grove by Francine Prose

Francine Prose is probably one of the better-known authors of contemporary times, and she's published both for adults and young adults. Goldengrove is the first title of hers I've read, and throughout the time of listening to it, I was reminded over and over of Jandy Nelson's The Sky is Everywhere.

Nico adores her older sister Margaret: she's a wise girl, slightly quirky, and full of style and sass. Her boyfriend Aaron is intriguing, despite their father's assessment that he "has a screw loose."

But when Margaret goes for a leisurely boat ride and drowns, everything Nico knows about herself, her family, and Aaron falls away as she searches for meaning in her life and in Margaret's.

Goldengrove is a story about loss and the search for oneself -- Nico, like Lennie in Nelson's title -- must figure out how to handle immense loss at a very young age. And not only is she struggling with loss, she also struggles with the crush and desire she has to be with Aaron. Together, perhaps they can forge the loneliness and loss and find comfort in one another.

But it might just be the case that Nico's father's description of Aaron is truer than she ever could believe.

Prose's novel is dark and haunting, as readers are dropped into Nico's grief. We have no barrier but rather experience her pain alongside of her. When she avoids old films that would have satisfied Margaret's need for entertainment or when she spends intimate time with Aaron discussing loss and life, we are inside her. It is raw and powerful.

Were I to read this book, though, I don't think I would have finished it, but thanks to the magnificent audiobook read by Mamie Gummer, I kept going. Perhaps there is something more palpable for me when loss is narrated or captured in a human voice, but the audiobook drew me in in a way that I could not be drawn into Nelson's title. I could not connect and feel I wouldn't connect on the written word, but something about the human element -- felt between the spaces of the words read -- captured me.

That said, the 7-disc audio published by Harper Collins did not move quickly for me, nor did I find myself eager to dive into each disc as I finished the one prior. Goldengrove requires deliberate listening and absorption, and despite the fact I could have plowed through this in less than a week, it took me nearly two to complete the audio. After a disc, I needed time to think through what happened and how it impacted the characters and me. Near the end of disc 6, there is a major plot twist, and it took me nearly four days to want to continue. But never once did I think I needed to quit; I just needed the space to think.

Gummer's performance is entirely believable, though she comes off sounding a bit older and wiser than your typical girl Nico's age (she is 11 or 12 in the story). Given Nico has been thrust into adulthood prematurely, though, the wise and tempered way she speaks feels right. We have a single voiced narration, too, which I appreciated greatly; I have mixed feelings about women voicing men and vice versa, and I think in this story, that tactic could have cheated the story. The production and editing on this title work well, though there were a few times that it was clear recording sessions had changed. I thought the silence in the background spoke volumes and made this production just click.

Goldengrove is a contemporary, realistic fiction title published for an adult audience, but it has significant crossover appeal, particularly for fans of Nelson's The Sky is Everywhere. Fans of Jodi Picolt looking for something with a little more heft will likely find quite a bit to like here, as well. It is much more literary, drawing in allusions to Gerard Manley Hopkins's "Spring & Fall." This isn't a story for the faint of heart, and some of the images and the poetry sprinkled throughout will remain with you.

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Sunday, July 11, 2010

Things I Know About Love by Kate Le Vann

The cover on the left has total appeal to me as a reader: it suggest a chick lit story set in a city. Maybe there's a little sight seeing and as the title suggests, maybe there's a little bit of love involved. It's reminiscent of Joanne Philbin's The Daughters and Emma McLaughlin's The Nanny Diaries.

But I have to be honest: I was deceived. Yes, there's love and romance, but the book is anything but the light fluffy read I was expecting.

Livia Stowe has been a sick teenager for a long time. But finally, she's feeling a lot better, and with her brother living abroad in Priceton, New Jersey for the semester, her mother decides she's healthy and mature enough to travel from England to spend a few weeks with him. While she's gone, she'll be blogging, too. Livia's never had luck in love, and she's hoping that maybe she'll snag a cutie while visiting Jeff.

Wouldn't you know, she meets a sweetheart named Adam almost immediately? He is actually British also, which is super convenient. He is a stand up guy, and he helps Livia fulfill a life wish in visiting New York City -- twice. Jeff's okay with their relationship, since Adam is one of his closest friends.

Sounds good, right? The girl gets love and hangs out in the big city. But then the ending is a changearoo. Sure, I saw it coming from miles away in this 160 page story, but I didn't want it to happen. It would be too convenient. Unfortunately, it does, and it left me really disappointed as a reader. I never felt enough compassion or interest in the characters, and the ending made me feel like the author didn't either.

Since I don't want to spoil the story, I'll change the tone of this review and say that this is a book that will appeal to Lurelene McDaniel fans, I think. There's a good sense of drama and a nice flash of romance that develops. Unfortunately, I think a lot of readers will feel the way I did with this: the book changes its story completely about 3/4 of the way through, and most reviews on Goodreads commented that their initial interest in the story was thrown out with the complete change in story near the end.

On the plus side, this is a quick read and may be an appealing choice for reluctant readers. Adam is a sweet character, and Livia's British quirks are just enough to keep readers engaged in her experiences. Since this book is making its US debut this month, I think readers might like the outsider perspective of American life (it's a book that originally published in the UK in 2006). I think that this is a book that could have benefited from another 100 pages to fully flesh the characters for the ending OR a book that could have stood out as a true chick lit/fluffy read if the ending were altered.

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Friday, July 9, 2010

Riffs on the Tale - A Rant

Yesterday, Kelly posted about the phenomenon of the mash-up: the original text of classic tales infused with monsters. Sounds fun and it's a clever marketing ploy, what with the current flood of vampire and zombie stuff out there. I thought the first one, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, was a cute idea.

I'm going to be honest and say that I haven't read any of the mash-ups. But I hate them. Hate hate hate them. Hate them more than nuts in chocolate (WHY do people ruin perfectly good chocolate in this way?). Hate them more than I hate having to deal with cranky library patrons. Hate hate hate.


Why do I hate them? Let's explore what nearly all of the mash-ups have in common: they are almost all classic novels written by female authors and/or featuring female protagonists. I think the best way to explain my feelings is to make a list of the mash-ups I know about, which I have done below (note that these are strictly mash-ups, not original stories, so it excludes Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, as well as the one about Queen Victoria):

  • Pride and Prejudice and Zombies - female author (fa), female protagonist (fp)
  • Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters - fa, fp
  • Little Vampire Women - fa, fp
  • Little Women and Werewolves - fa, fp
  • Jane Slayre - fa, fp
  • Mansfield Park and Mummies - fa, fp
  • Emma and the Werewolves - fa, fp
  • Android Karenina - fp
  • Alice in Zombieland - fp
  • The Undead World of Oz - fp
  • Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Zombie Jim
As you can see, even the books written by a male author still feature female protagonists, with the sole exception of Twain. (This is the point where I invite you to add to my list, with the hope that there are more mash-ups that feature male protagonists out there.)  I'm predicting right here and now that the next mash-up will be Wuthering Heights.  Soon, though, these hacks are going to run out of public domain titles to butcher (a good thing, but also shows the appalling lack of female classic literature out there).

It's no secret that most of the books Western society considers part of the classic canon are written by men and feature men, so the argument that this is merely coincidental is clearly untrue. What does the mash-up trend have to say about our society's views of literature written by women and featuring women? I'll venture a few ideas:

Our society thinks female-driven literature isn't good enough to stand on its own, that it doesn't appeal to enough people to make it worthwhile reading by itself, that it needs something extra to make it worth our time. Our society thinks female protagonists in classic literature aren't sufficiently "bad-ass" or interesting enough, that they need either more violence or more humor or both. Our society views female written and female-driven literature as inherently frivolous (the characters, the events, the themes) and thus these books are perfect for the monster mash-up, which is meant to be frivolous and fun and nothing more. I could go on.

Please, give me your thoughts in the comments. I know I'm not alone, since I've read similar rants elsewhere. I really don't think I'm blowing this out of proportion.

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Thursday, July 8, 2010

CSN Store Giveaway winner

Thanks for the AWESOME turnout on the CSN giveaway, fair readers! After eliminating our dud entries (yes - I read every single response to what you wanted and only real answers counted), our winner was Beth, #12!

Don't forget you have a chance to win a copy of Eragon on audio or one of Courtney Summers's titles.

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Riffs on the tale

Classic mashups have been hot for a little over a year now. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was the first to come out, back in early 2009, but now you can get your classics in about any flavor you want them.

I haven't read any, so I can't make a statement for how I feel about them. I've been asked a few times, but really, all I can say is that I think that now, they might be over done. Little Vampire Women, put out very recently by HarperTeen, is the first of many that the publisher wants to aim at teens, who have latched on to popular adult titles like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer.

What's your take on the trend? Does it do a good thing by exposing people to classics in a new way or is it destroying timeless work?

I guess the real question is this: what's the one you would most like to read? I'd love to read a mashup of Moby Dick. Oh, or maybe Leaves of Grass (what would be possible?). It's one of my all-time favorite books, and I'd love to see how it could be mashed. But what goes well with a white whale?

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