Are you in the Chicago area or in driving distance?
After a lot of ruminating and debating, going back and forth on spending the money and my birthday hours at a conference, I decided that after the absolute blast I had last year at the Anderson's YA Lit Conference, I'm going to go again this year.
If you can, you should definitely go. This year's line up is pretty exciting. I've met a number of these authors through ALA and BEA trips, but I am still excited to meet other new favorites, including Siobhan Vivian (review of her new book coming next week), Charles Benoit, and John Green and David Levithan. It is worth the $99, and the lunch I had last year was delicious.
If you're going, leave a comment. I'd love to meet up with you and spend a little part of my special day with fun people. I'm also hoping to stalk down the table Siobhan's sitting at . . .
Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Retta Lee Jones has a dream to leave her small town in Tennessee and make it big as a country music singer down in Nashville. Now that she's graduated high school and her friends are going to be going to colleges out of town, she knows it'll be harder being the only one to stay. But with the nudging of her good friends, she decides to take the $500ish dollars she has saved up from working at the diner and use it to strike out on her own in the big city of country music. She has a voice, but will she have the will power?
With a little help from the local grump, she borrows a beat down car and makes the trip with promises to be back in September if things didn't work out. But when she runs into a little car trouble, Ricky Dean saves her with his mechanic skills and puts her to work as his secretary so she can make a little money. A gig at a local hotel and doing open mics at the Mockingbird Cafe, though, might be the recipe for seeing her name in the big lights sooner than Retta'd ever imagined.
Somebody Everybody Listens To is a sweet story about perseverance and about growing up. Retta is a fun lead character in this story, and she is 100% authentic as both a teenager, a dreamer, and a southern girl. The book is chock full of allusions and stories about country music legends, as each chapter opens with a small biography of a well-known country star, when and where they were born, their road to fame, their first jobs, and something significant that happened in their personal lives. This mimics exactly how the story works out for Retta: we know when and where Retta is born, and as the story progresses, we see how she gets her first big break, and then we discover some of the big road bumps that jostle her.
Supplee, whose Artichoke's Heart I've also read, has a really enjoyable writing style that has wide appeal: her characters are full of heart, and her prose moves smoothly and at a good pace. She doesn't get too caught up in details nor does she weigh the story down with too many characters. There's a nice balance of lead and ancillary characters in her story: just enough to know Retta intimately but enough other characters to know that there is more going on in the world than just Retta. I thought Ricky Dean and Bobby McGee play in well, as does Retta's best friend Brenda. We also learn that Retta would not have been the only one left in their small town -- and I think that this entire feeling Retta and Brenda develop mirrors what a lot of people who just finished high school feel.
Although Retta is ultimately successful in Nashville, it's the kind of success that is believable in just a couple of months. She's not a multimillionaire, and at the very end, we actually don't know what Retta chooses to do. We can speculate, and I think that Supplee does her readers a huge service by leaving the ending open a little bit.
This book will work well for middle and high school students, as it is entirely clean and free of any issues relating to drugs, alcohol, or sex. Retta doesn't as much as kiss anyone in the book either: this is a story of her following her dreams of success as a singer. Fans of country music will dig this, as will fans of a coming-of-age story. Hand this off to fans of Supplee's Artichoke's Heart, Lisa Greenwald's My Life in Pink and Green, and fans of Wendy Mass. And as a bonus to readers, the author's provided her writing playlist, so readers can make their own listening list that will fit the mood of this book perfectly.
Also, how cool is it this book has a blurb from Dolly Parton?
Monday, August 30, 2010
Remember our post a while back about throwing our hat into the ring for Book Blogger Appreciation Week ?
We've been shortlisted!
Thanks for all of the hard work of the committees and for all of our loyal and wonderful readers who make this so much fun to keep doing. We'll be celebrating with another giveaway very soon, as well as more bookish goodness.
Like everyone else in the blogosphere, we believe we can add something to the discussion of the last and final book in the "Hunger Games" trilogy by the genius Suzanne Collins. Here's our take on some of the issues in Mockingjay, as we don't necessarily agree, despite both enjoying this book and the rest of the series.
*Spoilers are included, so please beware
One of the things I loved best about Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was the fact that I read it at the exact same time as thousands of other people across the world. Reading, an inherently solitary act, became - in a way - a social act as well. I felt like my own excitement mingled with the world’s - the build-up to the release, the feeling of finally holding the book, turning the first page and delving in - and it made the whole experience that much richer.
I've got to get off my chest immediately that Catching Fire bored me. I read it the day it came out, and I reread it in an attempt to make myself like it a week ago, but I still felt the same way. It's not that it's not a good book or that the tension doesn't develop more. It just felt a little bit like cheating to me, as the Quarter Quell happens, and it feels like The Hunger Games rehashed a little bit.
I was excited when my expectations for that were shattered at the beginning of Mockingjay, when Katniss decides to bite the bullet and be the symbol for all things anti-government. Kind of, at least.
If I were to rate this series, Mockingjay would be my second favorite, but it still didn't quite captivate me the same way that The Hunger Games did, and here's why: Katniss. Katniss throughout this book felt like a bit of a whiner to me. For the first two books, she's a strong, independent and absolutely astonishing main character. She's a revolution, if you will. But when Katniss steps up to truly take on the part of the revolution, she becomes a little too whiny for my tastes.
Not only that, but we know she's been told straight out that when she's not being fed lines or moves and she acts on her own accord, she's a much more interesting, strong, and brilliant person. Yet, throughout the book, Katniss doesn't WANT to act of her own accord. This is particularly evident, I think, in the end when she returns to her old home and proceeds to spend an inordinate amount of time sitting around and being inactive. Obviously she has a lot on her mind, but it felt to me she'd rather feel sorry for herself and wait to be told how to act than to be the Katniss we knew and loved. I just felt let down that she couldn't listen to the fact she's such a powerhouse; I saw Katniss as more of a person to take that compliment and move with it.
I did quite enjoy the growth of Prim throughout this book, but it left me longing for more of it in the other two books. I liked her a lot as a character and seeing her come into her own was worth the wait. And Gale? Loved seeing his transformation. As far as Peeta went, I thought he was perhaps the most dynamic character in Mockingjay, as we got a glimpse of someone truly impacted by the games to the point of (imho) PTSD.
I'm a little sad Katniss ended up with Peeta. I was Team Gale, if I had to pick one, if for no other reason than the fact they'd been buddies forever. But I'll also say that the romance in this book never worked for me, as I like it a little hotter and heavier, but for a book aimed at teens of all ages (it's on a middle school awards list in Illinois, even), I think it strikes a good balance of reality and fantasy.
Overall, I thought that the third volume answered a lot of questions burning from the other two, but it didn't *quite* live up to what I was hoping for. I still wish I could know more about Panem and how it came to be, and I wish that Katniss would have grown a little more as a character, rather than wither. The anti-war and government message grated a bit on me, as well, but I don't believe it's as much as political statement as other readers may have believed. Maybe that says something about me, too.
What did you think? Share your comments with us, and feel free to post spoilers in the comments.
Saturday, August 28, 2010
Welcome to this week's In My Mailbox post! In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by Kristi at The Story Siren in which bloggers talk about the books they received in the mail or checked out from the library over the week.
I had a fantastic week this week when it came to books. Every day was a nice surprise in the mail. As far as books from the library, I suppose I should make my "big" announcement: I've accepted a new job and will begin my new life as a Youth Services Librarian next week. I've been avoiding checking out books from my current library to avoid the big return at the end, so no check outs this week. You might see a wider spread of reviews in the coming months as I learn the ropes of working with a wider range of youth and better learn the books for younger readers (and of course, teens are still a big part of my new job!).
On to the loot. . .
How to Read the Air by Dinaw Mengestu: An adult contemporary fiction that sounds way different from my current reading but in a really good way. This one is from Riverhead and comes out in October.
Jane by April Lindner: A new take on Jane Eyre (which I read eons ago) that sounds right up my alley. This one is from Poppy and also comes out in October.
Dirty Secret by Jessie Sholl: This is a memoir of hoarder's daughter. Given how much I adored the fictional take on this issue with C. J. Omololu's Dirty Little Secrets, you can guess how I am interested in the real story here. This one's for a blog tour in January, but the book is out by Gallery in December.
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins. I have the other two books in the UK edition and bought this one from the UK, as well.
That's all. I've got a few things up my sleeve in the coming weeks, so I've been reading like a maniac to get caught up.
What's in YOUR box this week?
Don't forget to share your links to reviews, news, and views on audiobooks for AudioSynced, hosted here September 1. We've saved up some good stuff to share this month, despite the fact we haven't posted our own audiobook review this month. But don't worry -- we'll be back soon!
1. Losing Faith by Denise Jaden
2. The DUFF: Designated Ugly Fat Friend by Kody Keplinger
3. Girl, Stolen by April Henry
4. Freefall by Mindi Scott
5. The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney
6. Fixing Delilah by Sarah Ockler
7. Fall For Anything by Courtney Summers
8. Trapped by Michael Northrop
9. Rival by Sara Bennett Wealer
10. Sean Griswold's Head by Lindsey Leavitt
11. Like Mandarin by Kirsten Hubbard
12. Family by Micol Ostow
13. Back When You Were Easier to Love by Emily Wing Smith
14. Pearl by Jo Knowles
15. Saving June by Hannah Harrington
16. The Day Before by Lisa Schroeder
17. Between Here and Forever by Elizabeth Scott
18. Small-Town Sinners by Melissa Walker
19. Sharks & Boys by Kristen Tracy
20. Want to Go Private? by Sarah Darer Littman
21. The third book in the Carter series by Brent Crawford
Friday, August 27, 2010
Ever read a book that was much better than the blurb let on? For me, Holly Cupala's debut Tell Me a Secret outlived every expectation I had of it thanks to a blurb that sounded a bit too convoluted and confused for me. I won't repaste it here for you, but you can find the blurb on GoodReads. For me, the entire "let go of the past to get on with the future" sounded too cliche, not to mention the fact that it seemed the main character had a secret in a pregnancy. And something about a dead sister haunting her.
But this book gave me much more than I expected.
Rand -- Miranda is her given name -- drops us into her life five years after the night her sister died. Enter a mother who is an utter control freak about everything and a father who just goes along with mom. Xanda -- Alexandra is HER given name -- was Rand's sister and a complete rebel. She did what she wanted when she wanted, no worries about consequences. The night she died, she'd been in the car with her boyfriend Andre, a guy she met through her father and whom her mother thought was nothing but bad news. Maybe he was.
But Rand's been moving on, living her life a bit in the shadow of her sister. She was always the good kid, but she'd always envied her sister's carefree manner. When she begins a relationship with Kamran, though, things begin to slip. She's pregnant. Rand wants to tell Kamran, but the story slips to her friend in a manner that makes it appear that she wants to hurry up and marry Kamran in order to give the baby a normal manner.
But her friend....ain't her friend.
Soon word spreads that Rand expects Kamran to drop his goals and marry her, and it takes no time for Kamran to drop out of her life. And need I mention what happens when news gets to her mom and dad (who, too, found out through the grapevine, rather than Rand herself)? Let's just say that perhaps Rand's life mirrors the life that her sister led before she died.
Tell Me A Secret was more than a pregnant girl story for me. I fell in love with Rand as a character and felt she was fully fleshed. She was sympathetic and each of the punches life dealt her took me back to the experience I had while reading Courtney Summers's Some Girls Are: my stomach ached, my heart sank, and I had more than one moment when I wanted to just strangle the people in Rand's life. Rand's mother in particular had me furious, and while I understood some of her motivations, her attitude toward Rand's pregnancy and the belief that she should not be allowed a future burned me with rage.
And then the secrets begin unraveling, and the motivations driving the characters became clearer and clearer. Cupala does a marvelous job of building tension in her character development and pushes the plot through this.
Cupala's book is, for the most part, perfectly paced: Rand's pregnancy gives readers enough time to find out who she really is while she simultaneously discovers who she is herself. However, post delivery, I struggled with pacing, as it felt at times to drag (which I understood in the context of being within Rand's mind and situation) and then at times to resolve a little too quickly. We learn in the end that what had been "the truth" about Xanda, as well as the truth about some of the other people in Rand's life.
There is another part of the book that really resonated with me as a reader, and that was Rand's engagement with the internet. When she finds out she is pregnant, she seeks solace online in a web forum, where she really discovers who she is. In the midst, she learns about other people and about the challenges others have to overcome in life. At the end of the novel (though for me, I figured it out earlier), we see one of her closest web confidants may be closer to her than she realizes.
Tell Me A Secret will appeal to fans of Courtney Summers, Gail Giles, Lauren Oliver, and other similar writers of heart-wrenching contemporary fiction. There is enough suspense to keep the reader interested without making this an issue novel (which, I assure you, it is NOT, despite the teen pregnancy). I think Cupala has created quite a knockout debut, and I can't wait to see what she offers next.
Going back to my original statement: when I read the blurb of this book, I was not expecting something so engaging. It seemed like too many elements pulled together with a big "secret" about Rand's pregnancy. But Rand's pregnancy is not the secret: the secret has to do with something outside of her and, to an extent, outside of her sister and her death. While Xanda plays a large part in the story, she also doesn't play a part at all. She's playing the part in Rand's mind. And while she does need to let go of the past to move on to the future, I think that line was just a little too nice and shiny for a book that is really anything but.
Thursday, August 26, 2010
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
I love a good book that has abundant, smart use of literary allusion, especially of titles like To Kill a Mockingbird that aren't your traditional white man titles. The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney had a lot to like for me, despite some of the issues I had primarily with the main character, Alex. But if you're looking for your readalong to titles like The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks, Chris Lynch's Inexcusable, or Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak, this might be your winner.
We begin with a bang: Alex wakes up and doesn't know where she is, but she knows she's lying in bed with a boy she doesn't know well. She'll just sneak away quietly, since she doesn't WANT to know why she is where she is. That's when she notices the two condom wrappers in the garbage and the can of coke that wasn't recycled. Then it hits her -- she did something last night she didn't want to do.
When she returns to her room after hearing Carter, the mystery boy, tell her what fun he had last night, her roommates immediately tell her she's been raped and needs to get justice. The Themis Academy doesn't believe any of their students would ever do anything bad, so they don't really tackle things like rape cases (all their students are perfect, don't you know). Instead, her roommates urge her to seek justice from The Mockingbirds, a student-run group that tries student cases that would otherwise go unnoticed by school administration.
In the meanwhile and during the preparation and trial, Alex begins spending more and more time with Martin, a science geek who was also around the night of the incident. He makes her feel safe and secure, particularly as she continues experiencing flashbacks from her night with Carter. Is she sure it was rape, or was she a consenting participant?
The Mockingbirds had a great premise and I think hits on some important issues in a way that makes Alex a character who is more than her issue. However, I found Alex a bit of an irritating character: throughout the end of the book, she is heralded as a hero for standing up and speaking out. Unfortunately, I don't buy it. Alex never seemed convinced she was raped, and when she mentions it (somewhat off-handedly, I think) to her roommates, they jump to get her to act. I think they're in it for selfish gains -- T. S. does it to spend more time with Alex's older sister (and get herself a good word with the board of the Mockingbirds) and Maia does it because it'll give her experience for law school. And Alex just rode the wave. She never quite came together for me and as such, it was hard for me to feel much sympathy for her.
I had a hard time buying that there was not a single adult around who would help out. When Alex confesses what happened to a teacher she trusted (and whom I felt she used her because of her connections to Juliard), the teacher doesn't even offer to help. In a story set in contemporary times, especially at a private, coed high school, this was impossible for me to wrap my head around. With over 320 pages, too, we only ever got one mention of a mother and father. While I understand they're not there, I couldn't quite buy that they'd never check in on their daughter or their daughter, who was clearly traumatized from the rape, never once sought their help. I get she didn't want to have to leave the school, but, it didn't gel for me.
That brings me to the real issue I had, I suppose, which was that this was never a high school story. This is a college story but written down for the young adult reader. Whitney provides us a great author's note about her own experiences, and I felt that that was the reason I couldn't buy this as a high school story. Her experiences happened in college, prior to today's overprotective college campus environments that have multitudes of student resources for helping victims of things like rape; for a modern story set at a private boarding high school, it was harder to buy. I also want to know how all of these high school kids were getting all the alcohol and why no one was ever performing room checks for these things.
But I digress.
I found Alex's role as a victim quite refreshing. Where Speak and Inexcusable are heavily issue-driven, I felt that Whitney's book was much more about the justice group, The Mockingbirds. I found the organization intriguing and I wanted to know more and more, much in the way Alex did. I loved that they sought justice and the punishment they placed upon the wrongdoer involved giving up something they loved. These were savvy kids.
Likewise, Alex's interest were wide and varied. I found her fully fleshed in this manner, as she was driven academically and musically. She had goals, and she didn't let what happened to her railroad her from achieving them. Her budding romance with Martin was sweet, and I found her perspective about how it's okay to be a geek also enjoyable.
This is a title worth reading and discussing. I think that it'd be an interesting read post-classic, too, to talk about how a classic can inform and develop a whole new story, changing the entire premise but still retaining a clear connection to the original. The Mockingbirds will have pretty good appeal, particularly for older high school readers and those who are fans of the previously mentioned titles. Although I had some qualms, I'd still rate this pretty high in the world of young adult lit because it is refreshing and it is important.
Daisy Whitney's debut hits stores in November.
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
I hope you are all busy reading today. It's the big day, the day where we finally have the answer to the question of whether Katniss chooses Gale or Peeta.
And guess what? Here's ANOTHER chance to score some goods from the CSN stores. Still need ideas of how you'd spend the money? You could buy quite a bit of le creuset cookware, some unique salt and pepper shakers, or some bar ware for the cocktails you will inevitably need after finishing Suzanne Collins's Mockingjay today.
To enter to win, fill out the form below. We'll pick a winner September 6.
Monday, August 23, 2010
Elixir by Hilary Duff, despite what it looks like, is a co-written book. The co-author is Elise Allen. This isn't entirely uncommon for books written by celebrities, as Lauren Conrad's books are also co-written.
That said, what began as a great premise falls apart about 2/3 of the way through the novel, suffering from the classic downfall of many books: too much tell and not enough show.
Clea is the daughter of a well-known politician and a world famous surgeon. Her mother travels the world for her job, but her father -- the surgeon -- disappeared. Since then, Clea's life has been under even more scrutiny and security, as no one wants her to disappear in the same mysterious manner as her father. Prior to his disappearance, her father had appointed Ben to be a sort of care taker for Clea. Although she doesn't need a babysitter nor a housekeeper (she already has one!), he's there to help her navigate the difficult lifestyle of one born to the well-known. Along with Ben is Rayna, Clea's best friend. They are inseparable since her mother and Clea's mother are also tight. Makes sense.
One of Clea's favorite hobbies is photography: her father got her interested in photojournalism, and she's always found passion in capturing images of people, of things, of stories. While going through photos one night, though, Clea discovers something bizarre: there is a man who has appeared in the background of every photo she's taken. A little sleuthing through old photos shows that this same man has appeared in the photos that her father has taken, as well as the photo of the day she and Rayna were brought home from the hospital. Was he a creeper or was he another layer of security?
Elixir sets up an exciting mysterious premise, and Clea herself is quite a likable and sympathetic character. Although she's clearly privileged, she is still somewhat sheltered and naive. When an opportunity arises to complete a photojournalism assignment in South America, Clea jumps at the chance, despite what Ben believes will be serious objections from her mother. But oh, he'd be wrong: mom was okay with Clea jet-setting down yonder, where she inevitably will meet the mystery man in all of those photos face to face. Oh, and not only will she meet him, she may unravel the secrets to the strange dreams she's been having over and over, wherein she plays the roles of many different women in time and oh, she might also figure out what happened to her dad. And she might just take a trip to Tokyo. Just maybe.
Hilary Duff's novel had me quite captivated for a while, but when the suspense begins to really build, the novel falls apart. Pacing is pretty much non-existent, as we are introduced to Clea for a long time, but we are left hanging when it comes to the development of the mystery man (whose name at this point is Sage) and the timing of events doesn't quite work well. Likewise, the number of different elements pulled together to build the suspense are too many, and we are left with a bit of a mess when it comes to why things are happening or how Clea could possibly be privy to the information she receives.
I didn't find Sage worthwhile, and he was the mystery man. He wasn't built strongly enough for me as a reader, and I thought Clea was far too trusting of him from the beginning. Let's be honest: who meets a random man in South America, brings him back home to their house under a pseudonym, then hops a jet for a quick trip to a Tokyo hotel without once rousing the suspicions of their mother? And what made her so sure he knew what was going on with her father? There were too many threads and not enough knots here to pull through.
Finally, I had a difficult time even following what happened to her father and the Elixir of Life. Duff's book builds from the mystery that Clea's father has discovered the Elixir of Life, which allows people to live multiple lives. Kind of, I think. It sounded like the Fountain of Youth to me, but somehow, it lets people live different lives in different places. Having this Elixir got some people mad, and they're who ultimately were onto Clea's father. And Sage was on Clea's father's side here, but because the last 2/3 of the book relies so heavily on explaining a complicated backstory, it's never clear to me who I am supposed to be rooting for as a reader. I know this is the first book in a series, but being that I was introduced to one character and her best friend for so long, then dropped amid a complicated back story, I'm not compelled to pick up further volumes.
I wish the backstory about the Elixir were better developed from the beginning, with less emphasis on Clea's mother, her friend Rayna, or how dumb she was about the massive crush Ben had on her. Ben's a stock character here, but just as Clea is clueless about how to use him in her life, so is the story. It's disappointing, since I think he could have added a lot to it. Oh, and Clea ends up sleeping with Sage at one point, even though he had made her really frustrated. That was another relationship that just needed more oomph to work for me.
Elixir will work, however, for fans of Lisa McMann's Wake trilogy: although it's not as well fleshed, the dream elements, the idea of the incubus, and the mystery will appeal to these readers. When I initially began reading this title, I thought it would work for fans of Joanna Philbin's The Daughters series, given the "child of celebrities" angle, but I think those who are interested in that aspect of her series might be a bit disappointed when this unravels.
Although the name alone will sell this book, I think it will disappoint many of its readers. With the abundance of strongly written mysteries with a paranormal and supernatural element to them, Elixir's weak pacing and many strings of moments where one needs to suspend logic won't match others on the shelf. I wish this were edited a little more tightly and took the opportunity to delete some of the elements that weren't necessary and beef up the character relationships a little stronger that did matter. Likewise, less telling and more showing, particularly when it comes to the history of the Elixir of Life, could have sustained the momentum just a bit more.
*Review copy received from Simon & Schuster. Thanks!
Sunday, August 22, 2010
Welcome to this week's In My Mailbox post! In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by Kristi at The Story Siren in which bloggers talk about the books they received in the mail or checked out from the library over the week.
My week was quiet on the library front, but I did get a nice box from Scholastic this week which included:
Half Brother by Kenneth Oppel, which fits perfectly in my Orange Cover Theme, no?
The Fences Between Us by Kirby Larson. Larson wrote Hattie Big Sky, one of my all-time favorite books. This is part of the "Dear America" series, and it is set in pre-WWII Seattle. Should be great!
Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters by Natalie Standiford. I am SO EXCITED about this one. How to Say Goodbye in Robot was in my top five books for 2009.
From the library, I checked out a couple of things:
Bruiser by Neal Shusterman -- I loved Unwind and this one sounded pretty good.
Ivy & Bean (audio) -- this one's on one of Illinois's middle grade reading lists.
The Giver (audio) -- I want to revisit this classic
That's all! What did you see in your mail box this week?
Friday, August 20, 2010
Many of you may already be familiar with Halpern's Twitter feed, (twitter.com/shitmydadsays) where he began chronicling the rude, bizarre, and hilarious things his father said. After a mention by Rob Corddry, his Twitter feed saw a meteoric rise in popularity (as of this week, he has over 1.6 million followers). A book deal wasn't far away, and neither was a tv show, which stars William Shatner as the profane father. (I have a whole other set of opinions about the television show, but I'm reserving judgment until I see it.)
The audience for Shit My Dad Says can really be summed up with one question: Do you like bathroom humor? If your answer is yes (mine is), this book will likely leave you in stitches.
Here's an example of the elder Halpern's wit: "Son, you're complaining to the wrong man. I can shit anywhere, anytime. It's one of my finer qualities. Some might say my finest."
And then there's the sterling dating advice: "That woman was sexy...Out of your league? Son. Let women figure out why they won't screw you, don't do it for them."
As you can see, it's also for those of us who like a healthy dose of profanity with our humor (the two selections above are a couple of the tamer ones), so be warned. (Can you see why I'm wary about a television show?)
Shit My Dad Says is a short little book made up of brief vignettes featuring Halpern's interactions with his father, from childhood through adulthood. Each vignette is preceded by a smattering of (usually) 140 characters or fewer witticisms from his dad, most of them centering around defecation and tough love (and often both at once). I'd hazard a guess that most of these one-liners are merely repeats of the Twitter feed, but there are a few new ones thrown in, and the old ones are so funny they're worth reading again.
While humor is definitely the book's main aim, Halpern also aims for sentimental and touching, and he mostly succeeds. His writing makes it clear that the two men love each other, and this is spelled out in the last chapter, a pretty affecting few pages where Halpern's dad tells his son what he hopes we readers take away from the book.
Some of the vignettes are forgettable (I'm having trouble remembering details of more than a few), but on the whole, Shit My Dad Says succeeds in its purpose: to make us laugh and to remind us that a parent's love can be shown in some unconventional ways, but it's love nonetheless. This last point is something many people can relate to.
Thursday, August 19, 2010
Who doesn't love a lazy day in the hay?
Scot Gardner's Australian Bookmark Days just screams of summer, doesn't it? This one appears to be just an Australian release.
Michelle Hout's sweet Beef Princess of Practical County brings us the same photo cropped differently and with the blue sky behind it. I liked this book -- it's a good one for your middle and early high school girls who like a clean story about family and farm life.
I like both covers for different reasons. I like both the close in and the panned out shots here, since they work for each book.
Do you think one does it better?
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
The setting is small-town Milton, Minnesota, and our main chracter Chastity (call her Chaz) wants nothing more than to have sex. She's not shy about it, and she won't back down from the goal. Unfortunately, it's a small town, so the pickings are slim when it comes to guys. What's a girl to do?
Lucky for her, while working her shift at Matt's, the local bar and grill, she meets the mysterious Sebastian - a newcomer to Milton. Guess what Chaz's goal is now?
Kiss It is a fast-paced romance and total brain candy. It's not a deep book, though there is a great personal realization for Chaz at the end of the book, and Chaz is a fully fleshed character that will keep readers engaged and laughing. Sure, she's got a one-track mind, but she really reminds me of a girl in a small town just jonesing to get out. She's a good student and has a lot going for her, but she's also confused about her future. Should she go to college at the University of Minnesota? Keep working at Matt's? Join Americorps?
Downing's book will appeal to older teen readers -- I emphasize older, as there are steamy scenes and strong language. Chaz reminded me immediately of Cecily from Claire Zulkey's An Off Year and I think it would appeal to that readership. Your female readers who find Sarah Dessen "too light" will appreciate Chaz's sassy attitude and the real issues she faces within what is otherwise a cute romance story. No need to take this one too seriously, but Downing will surprise you with a nice ending and some twists that weren't obvious to the reader.
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
As readers already know, one of my favorite styles of writing is the gothic novel. On my recent trip to Las Vegas, I packed myself with The Twin's Daughter by Lauren Baratz-Logsted. I knew it was a mystery of sorts, but I knew little beyond that. When I cracked it open and dove into a nearly 400 page gothic novel, though, I couldn't have been more excited.
A knock on the door of Lucy Sexton's door will change her life forever when the long lost twin of her mother, Helen, appears. Lucy didn't know her mom had a sister, let alone a twin. Although Helen offers to leave, Lucy's mother and father insist on keeping her at their large home and taking care of her. But when Lucy's mother insists on getting her sister a new wardrobe, etiquette classes, and hiding her from society, Lucy knows something deeper is going on. Why can't Helen go for a walk in the park? Why can't she marry any of the suitors who are coming to the door for her?
The Twin's Daughter begins slowly, as we delve into the back story of who Lucy is, as well as who her mother and Helen are. We learn that Helen and mom were not the children of the man and woman that Lucy knew as grandparents, but were instead raised by them after a birth that shouldn't have happened -- and in that birth, one child needed to be sacrificed to an orphanage of sorts. Although it sounds complicated, it makes sense to both the reader and to Lucy. What doesn't make sense, though, is why Lucy's mother and father insist on keeping Helen cloistered. As she makes progress in her education, it seems strange that Helen cannot go outside or cannot meet the men who want to woo her.
But it is a strange murder that rocks the world of Lucy and her family and it pushes the novel forward, as we are left wondering whether it is Lucy's mother or Helen who was the victim of the horrendous crime.
The Twin's Daughter, despite some of the flaws I found in pacing and in plot inconsistencies, rocks for its narrator: Lucy is a fantastic narrator, as we are left wondering whether or not she is reliable. In the first third of the book, Lucy gains the trust of the reader. We believe her observations that she has of her mother and father (and she tells us over and over they are great parents, leaving us to believe her) and of Helen. But when the murder happens, everything is called into question. Lucy becomes unhinged in her search for the truth and drags the readers along for the ride. She falls in love shortly after and marries, and while we believe her in those factual moments, we cannot believe some of the connections she makes between Helen and her mother.
As a reader, I was left confused at the end of the lengthy novel, and I was utterly satisfied in this. I reread the last couple of chapters multiple times and continued feeling disoriented. But once I stepped back and realized my confusion came from being too invested in Lucy's perspective, I realized that maybe I'd been tricked. But the trick here isn't a plot device. Instead, it was the hallmark of a strong gothic novel: as readers, we must step back and question everything. This is a novel that begs for a reread with this perspective; it is a lengthy character study with a strong plot in the background, rather than a strong background with a character to move through it.
As mentioned briefly before, there are some issues with this novel. First, the pacing is not as strong as it could be. It seems as though the first 2/3 of the novel has a young Lucy, but within just a couple of chapters, she will become engaged, married, and unravel the life-long secrets of her family (maybe, that is). Likewise, there were definite plot holes and moments of confusion for the reader, perhaps brought on because of the pacing. Readers, though, will likely forgive these issues for the greater story and mystery at hand.
The Twin's Daughter will appeal to fans of historical novels, novels set in Victorian London, and gothic novels. Hand this one to a fan of Jane Austen or the Bronte sisters, as there is a romance that arises between Lucy and a neighbor boy that would fit into the love stories of those classic writers. This is a book that will make readers think and question, as well as pull them through intricate twists and turns. Although it is lengthy, it moves quickly as readers attempt to solve the mystery. It left me eager to dig into more of Baratz-Logsted's novels.
Monday, August 16, 2010
At BEA, Kim and I managed to score copies of the first volume of Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Lies from one of the graphic novel vendors. They were giving them away as part of the promotions for the upcoming film. In my effort to keep atop of pop culture, I read the book...then the second and third...and needed to see the film, despite my adamant no-Michael-Cera-films stance.
I'm glad I did!
Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World was more hilarious than the book let on, and in our group of four attendees, everyone got a number of hearty laughs out of this one, even though only half of us knew the story.
Scott Pilgrim is an unemployed, 23-year-old living with his gay roommate (and sharing his bed, his couch, his food, etc). He's also dating a high schooler he met on the bus, Knives. Oh, and he's in a band, The Sex Bob-ombs. He takes a lot of crap from his friends, naturally, but when he begins dreaming of a cute girl with wild colored hair, things are going to change.
Ramona Flowers skates into his life, quite literally: she's just left New York for Toronto and is working as an Amazon.ca local delivery girl. Scott? He's smitten. But everyone warns him not to get involved....he has a girlfriend, and she's been known to be, well, weird. He ignores their advice to find out that in order to get with Ramona, he will need to battle her seven exes. It will be epic.
Scott Pilgrim on film differs quite a bit from the books, although the central storyline is similar. Having only read the first three books, I can't speak too much, but some of the battle scenes are different, as are the encounters among characters (I had been looking so forward to the battle between Knives and Ramona in the downtown Toronto Public Library, but it didn't happen there). Scott's roommate differs a lot from what I thought he was, but perhaps it was good -- he didn't succumb in the film to the typical gay-guy-in-a-film stereotypes.
One thing to keep in mind, if you're going to read the book or see the film, is that there is a lot of video gaming woven into the story line -- so much so, that it would not be a stretch to consider the entirety of the book or the film as one giant video game. Scott needs to defeat evil to win the girl of his dreams, but the human element comes in quite strongly when he and Ramona realize what jerks they've been to other people in the quest of achieving their own goals. Even the most casual gamers will get a kick out of this aspect.
Although the movie had side splitting humorous moments (and I quite literally got a good laugh every couple of minutes), there was a lack of character development for most of the characters. And it was tough to believe that Scott never knew he had super powers, but this is something that I've been told is fleshed out a bit better later on in the comic series. But given the humorous situations, this is also easy to overlook.
My favorite part of the movie, though, was how well it incorporated a realistic setting with computer graphics and incorporation of the actual comic itself. A number of "flashback" or explanation scenes brought the comic onto screen and animated it slightly -- the movie felt authentically comic. It is what you would expect of a loser kung fu ninja movie.
This is one worth checking out, whether you are familiar with the story or not. You will get the threads and a number of good laughs. Although there is a lot of violence (Scott DOES have to defeat 7 evil exes), there is no blood or gore. This is comic violence, reminiscent of your Saturday morning cartoon violence. It's actually kind of refreshing. The movie will appeal to older teens through adults. And of course, it will spur readers into the comic book. I know I plan on finishing out the series to get even further into the story and to see what other differences existed in the transition from comic to big screen.
Saturday, August 14, 2010
This is my first In My Mailbox (IMM) post, highlighting the books I received for review this week, as well as some of the titles I checked out from the library. It is hosted by Kristi at The Story Siren.
I probably won't post one of these pups every week, but this was a particularly good week for me.
Received for Review:
Elixir by Hilary Duff, Simon & Schuster, October 2010
Not That Kind of Girl by Siobhan Vivian, Push, September 2010
The Iron Daughter by Julie Kagawa, Harlequin Teen, available now
From the Library:
The Half Life of Planets by Emily Franklin and Brenda Halpin
Tell Me a Secret by Holly Cupala (for debut authors challenge)
Library Wars: Love and War by Kiiro Yuri
Beautiful Malice by Rebecca James (for adult summer reading challenge).
That's all! What did you get in your mailbox?
Friday, August 13, 2010
You read my review yesterday of Katie Finn's What's Your St@tus (along with a slight review of Top 8, too). If you didn't get enough information about the books from my review, check out the book's site and the author's website for more dish. Want to sample What's Your St@tus? Give this link a whirl!
Here's your chance to win a copy of BOTH Top 8 and What's Your St@tus. All you need to do is enter the form below! Winner will be picked September 1. *If you don't have a blog or website, just type "none" in the form. This is open to US residents only.
Thanks again to Chelsy at Big Honcho Media for the fantastic giveaway!
Thursday, August 12, 2010
Last summer, one of the books I secretly loved was Katie Finn's Top 8: a fluffy novel about a girl who's Facebook-like account is hacked and thus loses a best friend and love interest in one fall swoop. This summer, I shared my not-so-secret love for Elizabeth Rudnick's Tweet Heart, a romance based on Twitter. So, imagine my excitement to learn that Katie Finn had written a sequel to Top 8 based on a Twitter-like technology that causes havoc again in Madison McDonald's friendship and love life.
What's Your St@tus follows Madison and her friends as they use Status Q to share their daily lives, as well as the details in planning their upcoming junior prom. And boy, will this be a prom they will never forget.
What starts innocently spirals into a world of drama as Madison and the rest of the prom committee are charged with guarding the Hayes crown -- the prom queen's crown that has a legacy in their high school, as it was donated long ago and was made of valuable materials (which are never quite divulged and of which Madison herself is never convinced, either). But, lo and behold, the crown goes missing and it may have disappeared at the hands of her best friend who has been feuding with a rival high school's prom committee. Naturally, their proms are in the same hotel in different rooms and they just so happen to be on the same Saturday. Say it with me now. . .
Madison is a likable character to me: she is funny, realistic, and she has both her highs and lows. I never find her whiny nor too dramatic, and she is never too good to do something. Her friends are well fleshed, as well, and the added bonus of the Twitter client is contemporary and fun. I think that this plot might be a little more developed than Top 8, and I found myself liking this one just a tad better.
It is not necessary to read Finn's first title in order to read this one or enjoy it. In fact, there are only one or two references to events past (Madison losing her best friend, for one) but they are explained in such a manner that no real back story is necessary. However, I think if you read one, you will have liked the characters enough to dive into the other.
What's Your St@tus also deals with a little bit of a trickier subject, that of prom night sex, and I think that Finn does this pretty well. We know each of our characters well enough to know they will make smart decisions, and it never came off as being didactic nor unreal. Not every character will remain chaste, but those who choose not to will do so under their own devices -- this will make sense in context of why the conversation about prom night sex happens. Kudos, too, to Finn for writing a book with few questionable scenes (aside from the less-than-candid discussion of prom night sex) and virtually no bad language. This is a title that works for younger high school students, as well as older ones. It may work for mature middle school readers, too.
Hand either of Finn's titles to fans of Elizabeth Rudnick's Tweet Heart, Melissa Walker's Lovestruck Summer, or fans of Suzanne Young's The Naughty List series. I think this is also an easy sell to fans of Sarah Dessen, Morgan Matson, Elizabeth Scott, or Susane Colasanti. It'll be less set in terms of family drama and much more in high school drama, but it will be fun and enjoyable none-the-less.
*Review copy received from Scholastic - what a great surprise!
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
I was a psychology major in college which may explain a lot about my review tendencies. It also explains the utter fascination I have with books that delve into the psyche of people who have mental illnesses. Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things grabbed me immediately, as I've developed an interest in hoarding, thanks to C. J. Omololu's Dirty Little Secrets.
Stuff is a non-fiction work that dives into the mindsets and experiences of compulsive hoarders. Frost and Steketee are university professors of psychology and social work respectively, and their backgrounds inform the story they tell. Little research has been done on hoarding until quite recently, as many believed that rather than being its own mental illness, hoarding was a component of obsessive compulsive disorder (and indeed, many with ocd do have hoarding tendencies, but not everyone who hoards has ocd).
Throughout the book, we are introduced to a variety of individuals and their hoarding experiences. We begin at the very beginning with the famous Collyer mansion case in New York City that happened in 1947: two brothers who lived together died in their own filth. The hoarding was so bad that their building was believed uninhabitable and eventually was destroyed to make way for a park. From there, we are introduced to modern hoarders and learn about what their obsessions are while Frost and Steketee offer insight into what may be triggering the illness.
The reasoning behind hoarding is well fleshed, but what I appreciated most in this title was that there was no "one size fits all" diagnosis: Frost and Steketee do a great job of offering the multitude of possible triggers for hoarding and I think they do so without making this one of those books that convinces readers that they, too, suffer. Of particular interest to me in this was a discussion of the difference between collecting and hoarding, and it made me realize that I don't have a single collection. For their purposes, collections are something that people have and have an orderly, well-reasoned, and logical organization or methodology behind. Think, for example, people who collect baseball cards -- they put them into binders or display units that are meant for organization and safe keeping. People collect baseball cards because they love the sport, they enjoy collecting signatures, or they are holding on to them for resale purposes (among other reasons, of course). Hoarding, on the other hand, is when there is just accumulation without logical methodology or reason beyond just needing to have things. This is displayed through their character studies in the book.
Stuff is a highly readable book that moves relatively fast and is conducive to skimming and skipping around -- something that I know some non-fiction readers require of the books they choose. The personal stories and the reasoning are interspersed but repeated enough that picking up at any chapter will not leave a reader lost. There is a variety of ages and genders represented in the examples.
And like any good non-fiction book, readers are treated to a list of resources in the book, as well as a chapter on identifying problems and seeking help for yourself or loved ones.
As many other reviews have mentioned, the style and tone of this book is reminiscent of Oliver Sacks, who is most well known for his book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. It is written with knowledge and without judgement, meant to be accessible to a wide audience. I read Sacks's classic in my high school psychology class, so I would find it easy to hand this book over to teenagers, as well, despite it being published for an adult audience. Since hoarding has been in the spotlight recently, this is a title that will find a wide readership, and it is for good reason.
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
Notice this one lately?
Have you seen other glossy or sugary lips lately? Share in the comments. I like the first two here better than the second two, which read WAY more along the lines of books for the 30 something ladies rather than teen reads.
Monday, August 9, 2010
In a Heartbeat by Loretta Ellsworth tells us the interwoven stories of two girls whose lives change in a matter of microseconds. Told through alternating perspectives and time frames, we learn about the horrible heart condition that has impacted Amelia's life forever and about the passion for ice skating that ultimately takes Eagan's life.
Ellsworth's prose is lovely and fluid, and she offers us unique insights into the lives of two very different characters. Eagan's passion for ice skating is well-delivered, as is her rocky relationship with her mother. Postmortem, we see Eagan interact with her present self in the afterlife and her past life on Earth. The dual perspective helps push the plot forward, and I quite enjoyed the person that Eagan runs into while in the afterlife. I don't think it's ever made explicit who Miki is, but as a reader, I picked up on that quickly and found it a nice touch.
As for Amelia, her story is told entirely from the present perspective. I must admit to never feeling much connected to her, as I found she didn't seem to have many interests or passions in the manner that Eagan did. She'd been sick for a long time, but that didn't seem to me enough to make her a fully realized character. Near the end of the story, Amelia chooses to take a trip from Minneapolis to Milwaukee with a guy she met at the hospital, and for me, this entire sequence didn't make sense to who I thought Amelia was. A little further growth in her would have helped me feel more attached to her.
This is a book for fans of medical stories. You know who you are, and you know exactly who you can sell this title to if you're not a fan yourself. The pacing is well-done, though I did find the time shift a bit jarring the first time it happened in Eagan's story, but once that hurdle is jumped, it moves smoothly. This is one you can hand as easily to a 13-year-old as to a 18-year-old, though some older readers might find some of the situations unrealistic. There are few, if any, language or situational concerns.
One comment I need to make: has anyone else noticed a trend in YA lit to tell the end of the story in the first chapter? I can't seem to place titles this second, but it seems to me more and more stories are throwing out the ending from the beginning and then telling the story backwards. It irritates me as a reader, since it never allows me the chance to figure out what's going to happen. I knew from page 2 how this would progress. This stylistic choice feels like I'm being talked down to, like I might not pick up the thrust of the story if it weren't told to me from the beginning.
On the whole, In a Heartbeat is a good book, and it will have appeal. For me, though, I never quite engaged enough nor did I find myself feeling satisfied at the end.
Friday, August 6, 2010
I'm in Las Vegas this week -- the second time I've been to the land of the unique and strange and downright fantastic. So, I thought I'd leave you with some field notes on Ripley's newest addition to their family of books: Ripley's Enter if You Dare. I was able to give a length review last year here, so check that out if you want a little more about the Ripley's titles.
Full color photos are of stand out note in this book that is filled to the brim with facts and figures covering everything from the amazing human body to incredible feats to weather to animals. This is a book that begs you to browse and browse and browse again. But not only that, this is a book that will have some reading every word straight through, as it is that interesting and engaging.
Did you know the world's heaviest cat weighs in at 22 pounds? I kind of find that lower that I'd imagine, seeing one of my cats is himself 15 pounds. Check out this photo:
Doesn't he look a heck of a lot bigger than just 22 pounds? Yikes! Don't worry, the book says he was told to be put on a kitty diet.
What I like about the Ripley's books is that they celebrate, rather than lampoon, oddities. Back in the day, people with long fingernails, bigger girths, or very strange hairy spots were circus freaks. In these books, they're celebrated: they are unique and interesting to learn about, choosing to put themselves out there (for the most part -- some are nameless statistics, which I find as respectful since it provides anonymity). I quite enjoyed digging through the parts about the circus in this volume because I live in the 19th Century Circus Capital of the World (complete with buried elephant under one of our lakes). Readers will be enthralled with the double page spread, too, about vampires, the shortest teenager around, and more.
The use of the double page spread is effective and exciting. Again, can I emphasize that when I was a kid, these books weren't in full color like this?
How cool is that?
Ripley's Enter If You Dare has wide appeal, and it will have special appeal to tween and teen boys, who love non-fiction. These books fly off the shelf at my library, and I suspect that this addition will do the same. The facts are new and fresh, not rehashed information with new pictures. These are the sorts of books that are not only fascinating, but they are appealing across generations. This is the kind of book parents can sit down with their kids and browse through and talk about.
If you haven't read one of these titles in a while, I urge you to pick one up. You'll be pleasantly surprised how readable, browsable, and bright they have become. And yes, I totally have seen some of these people in my trip, thank you very much city of lights!