Thursday, September 30, 2010

Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness

The young adult market has been saturated for the past few years with paranormal romances of every possible flavor - vampires, werewolves, ghosts, fallen angels, zombies - but the recent abundance of dystopian and post-apocalyptic stories is giving the paranormal subgenre a run for its money.  Dystopian fiction has been a favorite of mine since before I knew what the word “dystopia” meant, and it can be a bit disheartening to see so many new titles pop up without a single outstanding one among them.

Amid this crowded and too often disappointing field, Patrick Ness has written a gem of a series - three books that make up the Chaos Walking trilogy.  The third and concluding volume, Monsters of Men, was published Tuesday.

This is not to say Chaos Walking doesn’t share anything with the immensely popular and significantly more mediocre books of its kind also targeting teens.  Some of the immediately noticeable aspects of Ness’ story fit right in with the mega trends of today’s young adult fiction market: first person, present tense, series of at least three, some sort of fantasy or science fiction element.  Despite these similarities, Ness has managed to create something unique, and he’s made the more traditional elements fresh again.

If you haven't heard much about the books yet, I encourage you to check out my review of the first book here, where I provide a description of the premise.  I won't go into much plot detail in this post since I wrote about it previously; instead I'll concentrate on other aspects of the books - writing style, themes, and audience.

The first book, The Knife of Never Letting Go, is told entirely with Todd’s voice and ends with a cliffhanger (of course). The second book, The Ask and the Answer, picks up right where the first left off, but adds Viola’s voice to the mix.  In this volume, Todd and Viola are separated, and Todd is taken under the wing of the manipulative mayor while Viola is pulled into a rebel group called the Answer whose goal is to destroy the mayor at any cost.

Meanwhile, another war with the Spackle looms, and Ness leaves his readers on another precipice as the volume ends.

Which brings us to the third book, Monsters of Men.  In the concluding volume, Ness has added a third voice, that of a Spackle called the Return.  Here is where Ness really shines.  He’s succeeded in bringing us into the Spackle’s mind, a mind that feels both familiar but also very, very alien.  The Return’s sections are poetic and pained and at times hard to decipher, and when we finally do sink far enough into the character's voice to understand the Return's story, it is all the more satisfying.  Other authors have tried something similar with varying levels of success.  Philip Pullman's Mulefa in the Amber Spyglass are brought to mind, but even Pullman couldn't portray his aliens as effectively as Ness.  While the Return is ultimately a figure we relate to and feel sympathy for, we are also always conscious of his non-humanness.  It's a terrific feat that Ness is able to pull off. 

There are some heavy themes at work here.  The first major one is gender, in particular what it means to be a man (in a world devoid of women or not).  It’s not a stretch to call the series feminist books for boys, but Ness doesn’t hit us over the head with it.

The other major theme is war, and this comes into play most heavily in the third installment.  Monsters of Men (taken from a character’s statement that “war makes monsters of men”) brings us full-on war with the Spackle from page one.  The mayor and the Answer must decide whether they should keep fighting each other or join forces to beat back the Spackle, and the process is not quick or pretty.  Even when it’s over, there are aftershocks.

These themes make for a very dark story, but Ness provides some balance with a few humorous touches.  Todd’s voice is a big part of what makes the first book such an enjoyable read.  His narration resembles the Noise that surrounds him, so he tells his story in fragments and run-ons and quick parenthetical asides (“Shut up!” he frequently tells the reader after he knows he’s said something not very nice.).  The style is unique and more than a gimmick - it’s necessary to the story Ness needs to tell.

Ness also brings us Todd’s dog Manchee, the best dog in literature ever.  The first line in The Knife of Never Letting Go is “The first thing you find out when yer dog learns to talk is that dogs don’t got nothing much to say.”  To prove his point, Manchee’s first words are “Need a poo, Todd.”  When you think about it, that is really one of the main things our dogs would say to us, isn’t it?

Comparisons with Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy (which I also love, just not with quite the same fervor) are unavoidable.  You can read my thoughts on Mockingjay at our round-robin review here.  There's no doubt that Collins has written a heck of a story, a dystopia in first person present-tense (sound familiar?) about a teenager who fights against the odds in a war that tears her world apart.  But when both books are placed side by side, Mockingjay never really stands a chance.  Ness’ story is much more layered with more complex characters and subtler, less heavy-handed messages.  Mockingjay is great, but Monsters of Men is a masterpiece.  

This complexity of character and theme is also what propels Monsters of Men beyond just the teen market.  It’s one of those crossovers that’s fast-paced enough to appeal to even reluctant teen readers, but also layered enough to appeal to adults whose teen years may be far behind them.  In this regard, it’s similar to Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, another outstanding book marketed to teens but read and appreciated by all ages.  I hope that adult readers who don't normally read YA won't let the “young adult” tag mislead them - the book’s protagonists are teens, but its exciting plot and skillful writing are universally appealing.

Not everything about Chaos Walking shines.  The abundance of short fragmentary sentences can sometimes wear, and bad guys have a tendency to come back from the dead so many times that it would break even the most willing suspension of disbelief.  But these are minor quibbles about a story that is one of the best I’ve read this decade.

A common saying among readers and writers alike is “There are no new stories.” Mind-reading has been done before, as has colonization of faraway planets and war and aliens.  But it’s never been done in quite this way, and it’s never been told quite so well.

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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Anticipation- Fall & Winter releases

My reading list is ridiculous. I visit blogs, author websites and to check the release dates for upcoming books, continuously update my library reserve list (at the moment, I have 54 books on hold and 12 checked out), and keep a detailed wish list to remind me of what I want to buy.

While sometimes the sheer number of incredible-sounding books coming out is a bit overwhelming (talk about a first-world problem, having too much to read and too many books for my bookshelves), I also LOVE having all these fantastic books to look forward to, love being able to participate in all the blogosphere conversations about them. Here are some of the fall/winter releases I’m most anticipating:

Enchanted Ivy- Sarah Beth Durst
(release date: October 12, 2010)
I fell in love with Ice when I read it last year. Perhaps one of the most inventive fairy tale adaptations I have ever read, the update of "East of the Sun, West of the Moon" and Cassie and Bear's love story stole my heart. I can't wait to see more of Durst's writing in her newest book--magic, romance, mystery, and the Ivy League? I'm sold.

and Ice- Kate Messner (release date: December 7, 2010)
The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z. was my favorite middle grade book of 2009, and I raved about it to more patrons than I can count. Gianna's spunk, heart, and determination leapt off the page (and it is so nice to see a girl athlete!), while Messner's vivid writing brought the novel's family issues to life. Sugar and Ice, Messner's new figure skating novel, promises to be more of the same. (Kate Messner will also be stopping by Stacked on her Sugar and Ice blog tour on December 2nd!)

Secondhand Charm- Julie Berry (release date: October 12, 2010)
Another original fairy tale by the author of the wonderful The Amaranth Enchantment, about a young girl with healing power whose skills with charms are suddenly necessary. I will never get tired of a good, simple fairy tale.

Forge- Laurie Halse Anderson
(release date: October 19, 2010)
I was lucky enough to get an ARC of Forge, which I read and adored last month. I'm definitely purchasing a hardcover copy of this novel, which continues the sage started in Chains, this time from Curzon's point of view. I'm a sucker for a Revolutionary War historical fiction novel, and, as usual, Anderson's voice brings both the time period and the characters to life.

The S
corch Trials- James Dashner (release date: October 12, 2010)
The sequel to the amazingly suspenseful The Maze Runner. Hand this to fans of The Hunger Games clamoring for more.

Delirium- Lauren Oliver
(release date: February 1, 2011)
While I had heard dozens of bloggers raving about Before I Fall, I somehow waited until last month to read it. SO GOOD. I can't wait for Oliver's next novel, a dystopian about a world where love has been declared a disease, to be 'cured' when you turn 18.

Anna and the French Kiss- Stephanie Perkins (release date: December 2, 2010) Twitter and YA blogs have been exploding with love for this debut novel. Love in a Parisian boarding school? Witty dialogue? Ooo la la!

The Candymakers- Wendy Mass (release date: October 5, 2010)
Wendy Mass' Finally and Eleven Birthdays are what middle grade magical realism are made of. Combine her token humor and magic with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and I can't wait to taste the result!

Bright Young Things- Anna Godberson
(release date: October 12, 2010)
The author of The Luxe series takes on the Roaring Twenties. Family secrets, the search for a father, murder, flappers, and the Jazz Age. I'm dancing the Charleston over here just thinking about it!

What are your most anticipated Fall and Winter releases?

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Hush by Eishes Chayil + Giveaway

Imagine growing up in a world where most of your life is planned out for you and where women are little more than things to marry off and produce children. Imagine not having a voice and imagine that no one would believe a word you said, simply because you were a woman?

Enter life inside the closed Chassidic community in Borough Park, New York City. It is here where the most Orthodox Jewish live and worship the Torah, and it is here where Gittel witnesses one of the worst things that could happen: the sexual abuse of her best friend by her brother. But, she nor best friend Devory can say a word about it. They're women -- and at this point, children -- meaning that whatever they say is wrong, misdirected, or ignored completely. They're to keep quiet, turn 18, get married, and have children.

Things spiral out of control, though, as Devory becomes more and more unhinged. She tries to spend more evenings at Gittel's house, but Gittel's parents won't let her without permission. When permission's not granted, Gittel knows that the desperation of her best friend stems from the fear that her brother will be visiting her at night against her will. Eventually, Devory does the unimaginable.

Hush is a slow paced novel, steeped deep into the Chassidic community. There is a lot of history and explanation of their beliefs through this, and at times, this slows down the narrative. As an outsider and uneducated about this religious group, I found myself tripping through a lot of this, trying to understand and absorb it, despite the fact it wasn't entirely important to the novel. I could have done with less of this through the novel, for the sake of a stronger narrative string and a more speedy pace.

That said, the issues brought up in this book are powerful. This story is not a historical novel; it is set in the present. To be fair, the first half of the book alternates between 2003 and 2009, and the second half is set entirely in 2010. These issues, despite what we believe, still happen today, and Chayil has done a real service in shining a light on sexual abuse. Moreover, this book emphasizes the fact there are still places in the United States where women are powerless. It was a wake up call for me, and I think it will leave a big impression on younger readers.

Gittel is our narrator throughout the book, and we have the opportunity to see her grow and develop throughout the traditional Chassidic women cycle: she's young and powerless in the first half, and the second half of the book is her life after being married off to a man she never met but who was a good Orthodox. She's been set up to become an Eishes Chayil (see it?), or a Woman of Valor. She'll produce children who'll grow up devout and keep the community thriving. But, her conscious will cause her to rethink what's gone on in her young life and blow the roof off the otherwise closed community.

One of the things that bothered me a bit as a reader was the feeling I didn't get to know Devory very well. I wanted to know more about her and hear more of her side of the story; my knowledge of what happened to her comes second hand through Gittel, and while I have no reason to disbelieve Gittel, I also didn't quite get some of what she did. That is, I only "saw" the abuse once, and when Devory begins to lose control of herself, I wanted more evidence of why. For a book that moved slower, I felt there was a bit too much dwelling on the peripheral elements and not enough disclosure of the bigger issues at hand.

While reading Hush, I couldn't help but see the comparisons between this book and Chaim Potok's classic The Chosen. What a perfect readalike in similar settings. I think that a lot of young readers who grow up in strict religious upbringings will find a lot to enjoy here (though they may find Gittel's final actions disappointing). Likewise, those who are on the outside of these groups will learn a lot about a world entirely different from their own.

This is a book that will stick with readers for a long time, much in the way Potok's story has stuck and become a bit of a classic. Although Hush has some challenging moments, particularly with pace and detailing, the journey through it will make readers appreciate Gittel and her struggles. Hand this off to those who want something a little more challenging but who are interested in tough issues like sexual abuse.

Sound interesting? You can win a copy, too! Fill out the form and I'll pick a winner on or around October 15.

* Review copy received from the publisher as part of a book tour. Thanks for stopping by!

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Monday, September 27, 2010

Anderson's YA Conference

Friday night after work, I drove down to Naperville to meet up with Abby (the) Librarian. After the longest drive on earth, I arrived to Abby relaxing in the hotel room with a little Kiersten White Paranormalcy. We hit up some dinner and then proceeded to discuss, all night, the finer points of blogging and of young adult lit. Two bloggers and readers are never wont for something good to talk about.

Saturday morning, we head to the conference hotel early to scope out the on-site book store Anderson's set up. When we registered, we picked up a ton of posters (to be used in my teen area) and we got a few final copies of books, including Fablehaven and the first book in the Guardians of Ga'Hoole series. Oh, an an ARC each of Nightshade by Andrea Cremer and an ARC of a March 2011 title, Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys. That one's got a blurb by both Laurie Halse Anderson and Susan Bartoletti and it's a WWII historical fiction. Looks interesting. While we perused the books, we ran into another book blogger, DJ. I can't find the link to his blog, but I gave him my card and hopefully he'll comment and let me know his address so I can post it! (ETA: Check out DJ's blog here!).

We grabbed seats at one of the round tables inside the Ballroom. Last year, we were able to see who was sitting at our table with us, but this year, it would be a surprise. We were gunning for a few people to sit with us, and we were given a total surprise and someone we hadn't heard of: Antony John. He didn't get to stick around long since his chair got hijacked by another attendee shortly after, but he was a hoot to have at the table. We chatted with him for a little while, and he was so excited to be surrounded by librarians, saying hat he couldn't live without libraries. His book, The Five Flavors of Dumb, isn't out yet, and we were among the first to see the finished copies. We had a great conversation about cover art, and John told the story about how the cover he got (pictured at left) was the first one his cover designer sent him. I think it's fantastic and has real teen appeal; he said he couldn't have been any happier. It was like winning the lottery. Keep an eye on this guy; I think he's going to be going places.

Our first two keynote speakers were Blue Balliett and Pam Munoz Ryan. Both talked about their writing processes and how they are inspired to write. Balliett focused on her latest, The Danger Box, and said it was set in a small town called Three Oaks, where she spent a few days wandering and really learning in order to create the most realistic setting. She said when the book came out, since the town doesn't have a book store, they were selling it in the butcher shop because the townspeople were so excited their town was "famous" now. Ryan's talk focused a little more on her personal life, but she did talk a lot about the inspiration behind her latest (and baby of many a Mock Newbery list), The Dreamer. I did not know it was about Pablo Neruda, and that story made me a little more interested in reading this one. Those who've seen or read the book know it's printed entirely in green ink; she said this was because in her research, she learned Neruda only wrote his poetry in green pen because he believed it symbolized hope. Very cool!

We had one more keynote before some break out sessions, and it was Kenneth Oppel. His first comments went something like this: "Some reviews have been calling Half Brother a departure and that's really got me confused. Four of my books are about talking animals, and this one is about an animal that talks. It's just coming full circle." If that doesn't give a flavor for how his talk went, I don't think I can capture it better. He was energetic and very funny, discussing his thought process for writing Half Brother. He said he was thinking about experiments at universities where psychologists have tried to train chimps to sign, and he thought he'd like to write a novel in only the words one of the chimps learned. Then he realized that 251 words wouldn't make the best novel ever, and he decided he'd instead use that idea to write a story about love and family. He shared video of his visit to a facility for ages chimps who were no longer useful for experiments, too, talking about how the chimps were angry another male was there during feeding time. I noted on my sheet that he's a fantastic reader; he read a few passages of his book aloud for us, and it just worked. He captured the voice, I think, of his main character quite well.

After Oppel's talk were the first two break out sessions. I first attended the Contemporary Edge session, featuring the authors of these fine books:

That's John Green, David Levithan, Siobhan Vivian, Dana Reinhardt, and Charles Benoit. I was a little frustrated at the beginning of this panel, simply because it became the David and John show (naturally) but they did a better job later on giving the mic over to the other writers. It was interesting to hear they talk about the inspirations for their stories: for Siobhan, it was a conversation with a student class president who was disgusted with what she thought were slutty freshmen girls at her school; for Benoit, it was by total chance he even ended up in the YA genre (he's an adult mystery writer) and said he didn't have a lot of experience with the genre and is glad he didn't (or he'd be totally intimidated by the level of talent that exists); and Reinhardt talked about how she is inspired by the way teens can compartmentalize their experiences and that's what she loves about the contemporary genre.

They all talked a bit about their writing processes, and then they shared who it is they write for -- as in, what audience they have in their mind's eye when writing. Benoit said he writes for his nephew who doesn't love to read; Reinhardt says it's always a challenge since she DOESN'T want to do that, and she doesn't want to hear the voice of her editor in her heard; Vivian said she writes for a bookseller in California who posted a photo of her first book, A Little Friendly Advice, and said it was her favorite book ever; Green said he writes for his wife and for a girl he knew in high school; and Levithan said he's able to turn off that consciousness when he's writing and just go. I loved this question and I loved their answers.

When that panel ended, I headed upstairs to my next panel. In the line, I met Sarah of The Hiding Spot and her friend, the 2011 debut author Courtney Moulton of AngelFire. Oh, then I ran into Siobhan in the elevator. It was a fun way to spend a few dead minutes, of course.

My next panel was a tough choice, but I ended up going to one called "You're Never Too Young," featuring Kody Keplinger and Alex Adornetto, ages 19 and 17 respectively. The two of them together was really sweet: they were chatting up the whole thing before the panel officially stated, and when it did start, they were full of jitters and nerves. I loved that -- it felt really authentic and made the panel really fun, I think. They talked about how they gave up a lot of their social lives in order to be writers, but neither really regrets it because they love to write so much. The best part of this panel was listening to Adornetto; she is easily the most polished speaking 17-year-old I've ever heard, and she has a fantastic Austrailian accent. If you didn't know, though, she narrates Halo's audiobook version, and one of the attendees asked her to give us a sample of her reading. Adornetto is able to put on an authentic American accent, and her reading the story was fantastic. She said it took 74 hours to read and narrate the story, and my only comment about her reading ability was "holy cow." I was extremely impressed. She also shared that there were a lot of changes with the book made its American (vs. Austrailian) debut, including location and terminology changes. What was "going to formal" in the Austrailian edition became "going to prom" in the American.

Keplinger talked a bit about what older writers do that doesn't feel quite authentic in YA fiction. She mentioned that if ever there was the perfect book for teens, it is Laurie Halse Anderson's classic Speak. The dialog still stands and the story is spot on perfect, even ten years later. She mentioned that there are times when books written by adults for teens either portray the 17-year-old as too rational or too irrational, and she says that sometimes the dialog and phraseology can feel inauthentic. Oh, and she shared that writing for her professors (she's a writing major in college) is actually harder than writing for her editor because she is a total commercial writer at heart. I think this was my favorite panel to go to all day.

After that panel, I dropped into the book store and picked up a few books to purchase, including:

And then I headed to some signings. The lines were a little insane for some authors (can you guess who?) but I did go talk to Antony John and then stalked down Siobhan Vivian, who I had earlier bumped into in the elevator. She's going to be interviewed here in November, and I was able to get a few prizes for our readers (and one for myself). I also got a nice little photo with her:

We're pretty much BFFs now.

Our lunch left a little to be desired, except for the incredible keynote by what might be my favorite speaker now: Charles Benoit. You know him from You. He talked about deciding to write because he was tired of reading Clive Cussler and wanted to bring something new to the genre. But to dive into the weighty issues of the value of reading and reading whatever you want to, he shared a few stories about his mother. She was a smoker and a story teller, and they used to share story telling all the time through a box full of photographs. She'd pull one out and tell stories about the people were and what they were doing. When Charles was old enough to read and appreciate stories being read to him, his mom would read him stories from the newspaper. As he aged, he asked his mother why she always read the paper to him and as he was prodding her a bit, he learned that she actually couldn't see. They'd grown up so poor that his mother couldn't afford to buy glasses for herself, but she told him it was so important for him and his siblings to see their mother reading, that she did it to be a good model. Could there be a more heart warming story?

After Charles spoke, we had 2 more sets of break out sessions. The first one I went to was about supernatural fiction. It's not my favorite genre, but I wanted to learn more. Panelists included Kiersten White of Paranormalcy, Claudia Grey of the Evernight series, Sophie Jordan of Firelight, and Nancy Holder and Debbie Viguie of a number of paranormal series titles. I'm glad I went. Perhaps the best question the panel was asked was how they stand out in a crowded market and make sure their titles aren't lost in the shuffle. White suggested it's important to do something different (and she did by throwing EVERYTHING into the mix and making it humorous), Gray suggested that if you're doing something well and telling a good story, then there is always room. Jordan said take a few chances and you'll be fine, and the Viguie/Holder duo said they think they write differently in writing "epic dark fantasies." It was interesting, too, to hear them talk about their research in lore in order to prep their stories. They use tales from every culture, and in a sense, they all agreed that part of the fun of this genre is being able to just make it up as you go and do your own thing.

And the last panel I went to was another favorite: "In My 'Hood." They offered this panel last year, and it's a feature of the authors in the local area. This year's panel included Stephanie Hemphill of Wicked Girls, Stacy Kade of The Ghost and the Goth, James Klise of Love Drugged, and Simone Elkeles of Perfect Chemistry, et al. Although all of the panelists were excellent on this one, Elkeles really was a riot and offered a lot of insight. Criticism I've had of her books -- their lacking in some plot elements and character development -- are actually the crux of her writing. She wasn't a big reader when she was growing up, so she decided she wanted to write books people like her would like. She wants action and not description....and let's be honest: that's what a lot of teen readers LOVE. Plus, let's not knock the steam factor here.

All of the panelists also talked a lot about their covers. Hemphill said contractually, she can have as much say as she wants in her cover, but she loved the one she got for Wicked Girls. The only comment she made was in regards to the color font for the title, which was changed from a light blue to the green it is. Kade said she actually got models for her covers; since it's a trilogy she's writing, she got the same people for all three. Klise liked his cover because it will appeal to teens who think the book will be about drugs (it's not). And Elkeles offered what I thought was a great discussion -- she said she's not a fan of her white covers for the "How to Ruin" series (and unfortunately, I didn't get to ask her about the repackage!) but she LOVES the cover for Perfect Chemistry since it featured a "hot Latino" on it. She isn't a fan of stock photos and has been begging for models, but she keeps getting stock photos -- and in the case of Rules of Attraction, she was ASKED to write in a scene where the couple kisses in the rain in their cars. She called this a "too dumb to live" moment, but she did it anyway.

The last thing I wanted to bring up about this discussion was that the cover issue with Justine Larbalestier's Liar emerged, and all of the authors weighed in a bit about people of color on covers. Part of why Elkeles's cover works so well is that it DOES feature an ethnic character prominently on a cover, and Klise said that when he does see a cover with a person of color on it, he WANTS to buy the book because it catches his attention. Something to think about, publishers. Perhaps people AREN'T as concerned about covers as once believed.

After that panel, there were 2 more keynotes, which I'm sure Abby will talk about. I chose to head out of the conference early to head home since it was my birthday. I knew I had a low back tire and a 2 hour drive ahead of me, so I was going to stop for air in the tire. Unfortunately, my tire didn't make it to the gas station 2 blocks away, and some guy was kind enough to bring my hub cap to me at the gas station . . . and another guy was kind enough to change my tire for me (and don't worry -- I paid for him to fill up his pick up truck). Leaving early was a good decision!

Overall, this was once again a fantastic event, and I encourage anyone who is in the area to attend. It's really put the spark back into my wanting to write and engage with other authors who serve the same readers I serve in the library.

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Saturday, September 25, 2010

In My Mailbox (7)

Welcome to In My Mailbox, the weekly meme hosted by the delightful Kristi at The Story Siren. It's a weekly look at what I got in books this week.

For Review:

Hope in Patience by Beth Fehlbaum (Westside Books, October 27, 2010): This one's already been given nods by ALA for consideration of their quick picks list. I'm excited!

Pull by B. A. Binns (Westside Books, October 27, 2010): A gritty story set in the inner city. I think this sounds a bit like a Walter Dean Myers title, which isn't a bad thing at all!

Drought by Pam Bachorz (Egmont, January 2011): I loved Candor and am stoked for this one.

Library Picks:

Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper on audio: The Wisconsin Library Association holds a book discussion each year, and this is one of the two choices (the other is Neal Schusterman's Bruiser). I wanted to get both of them.

Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan on audio: This was my listen on the car ride to the Anderson's YA Conference on Saturday. She was a featured speaker.

Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteygart: An adult fiction that looks right up my alley right now. Despite the title, it's supposed to be humorous.

Cozy Crochet by Melissa Leapman: I'm really getting into this new hobby, which you'll know more about in a second. This book looked like it had some really good crafts in it.


Crochet, a Klutz book: Alea suggested this one as a great starter book with a lot of good patterns. It also came with a little yarn and some crochet accessories.

Amigurumi World by Ana Paula Rimoli: Another Alea suggestion. This looks a little easier than the crobots book, and it comes with an owl pattern. I am so excited about this one (and despite being a beginner, I can do a lot of the knots and stylings required here).

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Friday, September 24, 2010

Reviews, Twitter-ish style

I breezed through three reads this week in anticipation of tomorrow's Anderson's YA Conference. All three are the latest by authors who will be attending. They are all available on shelves now.

Paranormalcy by Kiersten White: Chick lit meets paranormal. Think Sophie (Hex Hall) style sass with a taser. Although I think there were some holes when it came to explaining paranormal elements, I thought the romance was well developed and our main character was a good female character. She was more than simply a love-struck woman. Read Jen's review for a longer review. I'm not thrilled to hear there are 2 sequels planned, since this could stand alone with just a bit more development. Pass this off to fans of Gail Carriger's "Parasol Protectorate" series and fans of Hex Hall.

Half Brother by Kenneth Oppel: What happens when you go from one side of Canada to the other and need to start over in a new school and make new friends? Oh, add to that the fact your father has just adopted a new brother for you, too, who will be his research project at the university for which he's now working. Imagine that brother is really a monkey. This is a heart-felt story about family and what it means to connect with one another wrapped in some really cute moments of monkey love (in an innocent way, kids). A total departure from Oppel's other titles, and this has real appeal to middle grade readers. This one's for fans of realistic fiction and those who like stories where the kid is the hero.

by Alexandra Adorenetto: Much as I wanted to avoid the angels "thing" going on in YA, this one kept calling to me. It's nothing new or spectacular in terms of plot, but the writing is pleasant to read, and this book flies! It's a hulking 450+ pages, but I breezed through this in just a few hours. Our main character here, Bethany, is an angel sent with her brother and sister to do good deeds in Venus Cove. Alas, she falls in love with a mortal and things get a little sticky. What bothered me about the book was that Bethany lets her friendship with Molly fall to the wayside for Xavier and pretty soon, he's all she lives for or cares about. It's annoying when I know there's a lot more to Bethany than that. Again, I can't believe this is a trilogy since this stands alone (except for the end paragraph which will be the hook into book #2 and could totally have been chopped out). Hand off to fans of Twilight or Shiver. This one's fine for youngerish teen readers, too, especially given the discussions of sex that happen in this book and it will appeal to your readers of spiritual/Christian books.

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Cybils, 2010 Edition

I am so excited to be a part of the Cybils Young Adult Fiction crew again this year. Last year's time as a judge was an absolute blast, and it was such a wonderful way to read some new-to-be books, hand out an award to a deserving author, and work with a variety of other bloggers in doing so.

This year, the wonderful Interactive Reader asked me to hop aboard the panelist side this year, meaning I'll be reading copious books in the next couple of months to help narrow down the dozens and dozens (hundreds!) of entries down to just a few. I couldn't be more excited to do that and to work with the other bloggers, some new to me and some people I know well. Check out their blogs, too, from the Cybils site.

Also, check out this great checklist courtesy of Maw Books of what YOU can do to be a part of Cybils. Get your nominations ready!

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Field Notes: The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff

While Brenna Yovanoff's The Replacement was not one of my favorite readers, this is a book that will have wide appeal to fans of the macabre, horror, and folk legends. Think of your Edgar Allen Poe fans with this one.

Mackie has always felt like an outsider, and perhaps his sister's insistence that he was a replacement -- a baby put in the place of a human baby's bed -- doesn't help. But when Mackie finds out that what his sister tells him is true, well, perhaps he feels even more like an outsider than he did before. But when he descends into the underworld from where he came, he comes to realize that fitting in isn't as easy as he thought it would be.

In addition to the dark elements (and the very human elements of fitting in), Mackie has a little bit of a romance budding with Tate. Tate and Mackie have a unique bond in that Tate's sister has been a replacement, as well.

The Replacement is full of lore and builds a world that many readers will fall right into. Although the book's pitch of being "Edward Scissorhands meets Catcher in the Rye" seems really far fetched to me (in no way is Mackie any Holden Caulfield), I think fans of Edward Scissorhands and similar stories will enjoy this tale. Fans of Catcher in the Rye might want to skip this one if they are expecting a similar main character.

Although fitting in is a big theme here, other themes tend to center around legends and folk lore. I found some big plot holes in this novel, as well as some weak development among characters (Mackie and Tate never once seemed like they were into each other, since Mackie had a huge crush on another girl the entire time), but readers who go in for the darker aspects will easily appreciate this story, the world building, and the ending.

Pop this into your Halloween displays this year but don't expect it to stay too long!

*Review copy received from the publisher.

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Covers change the story, part 2

I'm a fan of Simone Elkeles's Perfect Chemistry and Leaving Paradise series. They're edgy, raw, and at times, downright sexy. But those aren't her only books. She's also put out another series which I haven't yet read. But judging by these covers, it looks like a sweeter series than her others (sweeter as in, it's probably appropriate for a bit younger readership than her other two books). Check out the covers:

They're simple, clean, and they stand out on a shelf pretty easily. Imagine my shock when I went to a bookstore this week and saw what I thought was a new book by Elkeles (and then was surprised in myself for not knowing there was a new one):

I picked it up and read it. It's not a new book: it's a compilation of the other three books in one volume.

Now is it me, or does that cover not only look like every other book on the market, but it changes the entire tone of the story. Rather than looking like a sweeter read, it looks like her other two series. . . and like a bodice-ripping romance.

I hate the makeover. What about you?

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

John Belushi is Dead by Kathy Charles

Hilda and Benji are best friends forever. Maybe. Their interests seem to match perfectly, as both have a passion for haunting the most notorious places in Los Angeles: sites where celebrities have been murdered or where celebrities have taken their own lives. This fascination, while dark, is actually quite therapeutic for Hilda, who has had a lot of loss in her young life. Her mother and father were killed in a car accident that almost took her life, too.

Everything changes, though, when the pair end up investigating a suicide in the apartment of an old man named Hank. Although initially put off by the two crazy kids, one with pink hair, knocking at his door and asking to take pictures of his bathroom, Hank agrees and it takes little time for Hilda to realize there's something special about this man. And soon after, he'll begin calling her and she'll find a connection with an adult in town.

Although Hilda and Hank begin growing closer, Hank's downstairs neighbor Jack becomes concerned and tries to break it to Hilda that Hank has a lot of secrets and history that should make her wary. It won't be until tragedy strikes Hank and Benji nearly kills himself that Hilda begins to understand her fascination with death means something deeper.

John Belushi is Dead was one of my favorite reads so far this year. This engaging, edgy, and boundary-pushing novel brings together the ideas of life and death in a city of lore and lust that just works. Hilda is a likeable character from the get go: we know she's had a tough life, living with her aunt because of the death of her parents, and we know she's a little wild, as seen from her romps around notorious LA places. She and Benji are quite a pair, and while outsiders to the rest of the world, they come into their own together and don't quite feel like outsides, recluses, or losers. In the end we will find out that Benji isn't quite what he seems, but since this story is told from Hilda's perspective, this is a realization we will come to with her.

After Hilda and Benji initially meet Hank, I couldn't help but draw the comparisons between this book and Paul Zindel's classic The Pigman. While they aren't perfect readalikes, I think that the quirky relationship building between generations is somewhat similar, and the realizations that happen between Hilda and Hank are similar to those John and Lorraine have with the Pigman.

Enter Jack.

Jack is the propulsion in this novel that really drives Hilda to think about who she is and what she loves. Her budding relationship with Hank is completely innocent, though much of it is based around death, much like her relationship with Benji. When Jack comes in and begins to push Hilda's perception about Hank, though, things change. Hank, as it turns out, has a greater history in the world than he's letting on, and it's one that revolves around death. Big death -- something greater than the death of John Belushi or Chris Farley. No, this is the death that changes history, the world we live in, and Hilda.

Kathy Charles's novel was well paced and plotted, and the character development is absolutely spot on for me. That, in conjunction with the setting, came together to leave a not just a pretty story, but a strong message about life and living. This book published initially in Australia titled Hollywood Ending, and when it published in the US, the title changed to John Belushi is Dead. Both titles work, and they work for different reasons.

This is the kind of book I would hand off to fans of Perks of Being a Wallflower. The feeling of being an outsider and an insider simultaneously and the growth of the main characters are similar in both titles. Both push the boundaries of the reader's expectations, and both convey quite an important message without being books that are about delivering a message. The quirky factor will work for fans of Steffan Piper's Grayhound, Joe Nemo's Hairstyles of the Damned, and other similar titles.

Because of the issues brought up here and the edgy factors (and let me tell you - calling anything edgy really bothers me, but it's the best word to use here), this book is best for high schoolers and adult readers. This is the kind of book perfect for college students. While reading this title, I couldn't help but think of my best friend from college the entire time who would eat this up in no time. She's a huge fan of Francesca Lia Block, and I think it would be interesting to hand a book like this to a fan of hers. I suspect there would be a lot to like because of the language, the setting, and the character development. And of course, try this one who liked Zindel's classic. They aren't perfect readalikes, but the comparisons that could be drawn are great.

* Thanks to Kathy Charles for sharing this one with me. It's going to be passed around!

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