Friday, December 31, 2010

Thank you!

On this last day of 2010, we wanted to take the time to thank you. Without the support and encouragement of readers, authors, publishers, and other bloggers, we wouldn't be energized enough to keep doing what we're doing here.

Throughout the last year, we've made some great friendships and connections with other book lovers, and we couldn't be more excited to be part of a supportive, friendly, and thoughtful community. We look forward to 2011 bringing more great reading, fun conversation, and chances to continue meeting new people.

Thank you!

Thank you to the publishers for sending us new titles to read and review. We appreciate the time and effort it takes to do this, and we do our best to read everything we can.

Thank you to the publicity groups that have used OUR comments on national marketing campaigns (yes, you did read right -- we have a quote featured in a full color advertisement in this month's School Library Journal!).

Thank you to the authors who not only produce work for us to enjoy but who also interact with and stand behind us and what we do here. Your belief in what we do is more valuable than we can explain. Some of you have become more than just those who produce work for us to judge: you've become our friends (and not only understand but appreciate that that fact doesn't change how we'll review your work). Thank you!

Thank you to the bloggers who lend us an ear when we are about ready to throw in the towel. Thanks for collaborating on projects with us and for giving us things to think about and get heated about.

A special thank you to Abby (the) Librarian for helping launch AudioSynced, and thank you to the other bloggers who have raised the profile of audiobooks on the book blogosphere.

And thank you to our readers, those who we hear from regularly and those who stop by more casually. Thanks for filling our inboxes with excitement each and every day and thank you for linking to us and sharing our thoughts with others. Thank you for taking our reviews seriously and understanding we do things with our own style and purpose.

We look forward to 2011 and hope you do too!




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Thursday, December 30, 2010

What I'm Reading Now, Twitter-Style

Welcome to another edition of reviews Twitter-style: a brief description of my current reads in 140 characters or less (sometimes I fudge a few characters, but you can forgive me).

Print Books

StarCrossed
Elizabeth Bunce

By the author of the first Morris winner, so I’m giving this one a shot, even though I didn’t really care for her first book. Magic, complex world-building, and a plucky heroine.

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide
Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

Depressing but also eye-opening account of women in the poorest areas and worst situations. I look forward most to the sections on how people like us can help.

Fables Vol. 14: Witches
Bill Willingham

The latest in Willingham's comic book series doesn't disappoint, with a focus on a few of the more interesting characters (the witches). A bit too much exposition, but still satisfying.

Red as Blood, or Tales From the Sisters Grimmer
Tanith Lee

A collection of re-told fairy tales from one of my favorite authors. Edgy but not true horror (so far). The source material is sometimes difficult to determine, but I enjoy seeing how Lee re-works the familiar stories.

Wither
Lauren DeStefano

Another dystopia. Another trilogy. Girls die at 20, boys at 25. Girls sold into marriage and forced to pop out babies. Weak world-building and a too passive heroine weaken the tale, but it will satisfy diehard fans of the genre. 





Audiobooks

Before I Fall
Lauren Oliver

Mean girl dies and re-lives the same day over and over again, a la Groundhog Day minus the comedy. Terrific narrator, excellent writing, I’m actually enjoying a contemporary YA!


The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Sherman Alexie

Yes, it really is as good as everyone says. The story - Indian boy leaves reservation to attend a white school - is a bit slight at times, but the narration (by Alexie himself) is wonderful and it's full of real humor.




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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Goose Girl, by Shannon Hale (audiobook)

She can whisper to horses and communicate with birds, but the crown princess Ani has a difficult time finding her place in the royal family and measuring up to her imperial mother. When she is shipped off to a neighboring kingdom as a bride, her scheming entourage mounts a bloody mutiny to replace her with a jealous lady-in-waiting, Selia, and to allow an inner circle of guards more power in the new land. Barely escaping with her life, Ani disguises herself as a goose girl and wanders on the royal estate. Does she have the pluck to reclaim her rightful place?


Summary from Goodreads

While I have read a few books by Shannon Hale before (Book of a Thousand Days and Austenland), I was truly blown away by The Goose Girl. Hale took a simple Brothers Grimm fairy tale, and created a fully realized world around that structure, truly making it her own.

Shannon Hale's writing is lush and gorgeous, filled with stunning, vivid descriptions. Both Kildenree and Bayern become vivid, real places under her pen, and the simplest descriptions of forest trees or flowers bloom to life. On multiple occasions through the course of this audiobook, I actually stopped, paused my iPod, and thought over the phrase that I had just heard, marveling how a simple decision of word choice and word order managed to paint such a scene in my mind.

I wish I had read this book when I was in middle school. Ani is a strong, determined female character, one who saves two kingdoms from war and also manages to thwart a cadre of men and a devious 'friend' scheming to take her life. Yet she's unsure of herself, shaky in her self-belief, and not at all confident that her meager powers are enough to allow her to either fit in or triumph over the forces pushing against her. It is quite refreshing to witness a character express that lack of confidence and to see a loner gradually opening up to people around her and finding a place in a world that welcomes her, exactly as she is. The fourteen year old me who was so anxious about acceptance would have found a kindred spirit in Ani.

One of Hale's strengths in this book is pacing, as the action never drags, yet we still witness quiet moments of Ani settling in, exploring, and finding her place in her new environment and new role as a Goose Girl. On the surface, the plot of this books seems as if it should be so simple: Mutiny occurs, Ani becomes a Goose Girl, Ani regains her crown. As easy as one, two, three. Yet so much more happens within the lines of this novel, as twists and turns, complications and missteps occur, leading Ani to test her strength in new ways and to form new relationships. In addition to Ani, the supporting characters are quite well-developed and three-dimensional. I was especially impressed with the character of Conrad, the Goose Boy whose jealousy of Ani's popularity with the fellow child laborers leads to unforeseen consequences. This character could so easily have slipped into the token antagonist role, yet Hale managed to make his motives complex and relatable. The villians, most notably Selia and Ungolad, are menacing, yet appear in the flesh rarely. Hale uses the threat of their plots and Ani's fear to great effect, creating a sense of foreboding throughout the story.

The Goose Girl was my first experience with an audiobook produced by Full Cast Audio, which used multiple actors to play various roles, rather than just one narrator taking on the voices of all the novel's characters. The result is a lush, fully realized production that feels more like hearing a stage production of a story than listening to an audiobook. The music is interspersed at the perfect moments, with lilting tunes accompanying Ani's communion with nature and animals, and tones of foreboding announcing the approach of danger. The main narrator Cynthia Bishop's voice is authoritative and commanding, grabbing the listener's attention and blazing a path through Hale's tale. Erica Lustig, the voice of Ani, has a sweet, melodious voice, one that seems ideal for communication with both nature and animals. Her intonation, while slightly timid, is able to gain enough strength to depict Ani's transformation in the last half of the novel. I was also impressed with the work of Emily Holgate, the voice of Enna. Holgate perfectly portrays the strong, assertive character whose support and friendship gives Ani the courage to forge ahead and the acceptance to be herself.

I am looking forward to continuing with the next book in Shannon Hale's Books of Bayern series, Enna Burning. I would hand this to fans of Robin McKinley, Tamora Pierce, or Gail Carson Levine.




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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

2011 Debut Authors Challenge

I'm signing up again for Kristi's Debut Authors Challenge. I made it my goal last year to read 20 books and I surpassed it, reading 50 titles total. For me, this challenge is about learning new authors so I can be a better reader and a better librarian/collection developer.

This year, I'm going to aim a little higher and shoot to read 30 debut titles. I think I'll be reading more than that, but I'm of the better safe than sorry camp. I'll link all of my reviews to this post throughout the year and do a run down at the end of 2011.

Last year, I came up with this nice little list of titles I planned on reading, but as the year went on, I noticed I cared less about the list and more about my own reading needs. So, with good intentions, I post a list again knowing darn well it probably won't all happen.

1. Entangled by Cat Clarke
2. Choker by Elizabeth Woods
3. Rival by Sara Bennett-Wealer
4. XVI by Julia Karr
5. Dark Mirror by MJ Putney
6. Exposed by Kimberly Marcus
7. Leverage by Joshua Cohen
8. Like Mandarin by Kirsten Hubbard
9.
Illegal by Bettina Restrepo
10. Bumped by Megan McCafferty (her YA debut)
11. Unlocked by Ryan G Van Cleave
12. The Pull of Gravity by Gae Polisner
13. Blood Red Road by Moira Young
14. Putting Makeup on Dead People by Jen Violi
15. Popular by Alissa Grosso
16. Wildefire by Karsten Knight
17. Page by Paige by Laura Lee Gulledge
18. Stupid Fast by Geoff Herbach
19. Bad Taste in Boys by Carrie Harris
20. The Beginning of After by Jennifer Castle
21. And Then Things Fall Apart by Arlaina Tibensky
22. Moonglass by Jessi Kirby
23. Where Things Come Back by Corey Whaley
24. Lie by Caroline Bock
25. Pretty Bad Things by CJ Skuse
26. Orchards by Holly Thompson
27. I am J by Cris Beam
28. I'll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan
29. Bunheads by Sophie Flack
30. Clarity by Kim Harrington
31. The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab
32. Saving June by Hannah Harrington
33. Ten Miles Past Normal by Francis O'Roarke Dowell
34. OyMG by Amy Fellner Dominy
35. Dreams of Significant Girls by Cristina Garcia
36. Audition by Stasia Kehoe Ward
37. The Latte Rebellion by Sarah Stevenson

38. The Year We Were Famous by Carole Estby Dagg
39. Frost by Marianne Baer
40. Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
41. The Mostly True Story of Jack by Kelly Barnhill (middle grade)
42. This Girl is Different by JJ Johnson
43. With or Without You by Brian Farrey
44. Deadly Cool by Gemma Halliday

45. Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol
46. A Long, Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan
47. Divergent by Veronica Roth
48. Paper Covers Rock by Jenny Hubbard
49. The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin
50. Flirt Club by Cathleen Daley (YA/MG Debut)
51. What Can('t) Wait by Ashley Hope Perez
52. Running Wide Open by Lisa Nowak
53. Bitter Melon by Cara Chow
54. I'm Not Her by Janet Gurtler
55. Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake
56. The Trouble with Half a Moon by Danette Vigilante


Considering my original goal was 30, I think 56 is pretty good.




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Reminder: Audiosynced & Catching up on Challenges



Just a reminder that Audiosynced will be hosted here at STACKED this month. We'll be running it a day late, too, since we have another post scheduled for the 1st of January. Look for Audiosynced on Sunday, January 2 right here, and contribute your audiobook news and reviews for us to share.

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Remember the debut authors challenge?

My goal was to read 20 debut author titles this year, and I announced that right here.
Well, I did a little better:

I read 50 debut author titles this year.

Obviously, I didn't review them all (and unfortunately, with Cybils consuming my life in December, I didn't review any of the December debut titles I read) but this challenge was excellent for making me read more outside my comfort zone. I'm so glad I participated since it pushed me out of my comfort zone, as well as exposed me to some new and upcoming voices I look forward to visiting in sophomore titles.

And with that, you can bet I'll be joining the challenge again. My official post for joining will be up later today!

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I also joined in The Contemps challenge a few months back and finally got around to updating my reading on it. Of the 21 titles, six have been officially released, and of the six, I've read 5 so far. You can check out the links to the reviews here. You'll see my review of Freefall, the one title I've yet to review of the ones I've read, soon.




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Monday, December 27, 2010

Field Notes: A Blue So Dark by Holly Schindler

Aura's mother, Grace, is drowning in her own sickness. She's schizophrenic, and each day has become a bigger and bigger battle between perception and reality. It's been Aura's responsibility to keep an eye on her as her only child, especially after he father left. He couldn't handle the illness anymore after her mother chose to stop taking her medication.

Aura's life changes abruptly after a horrible episode with her mother. Can she handle taking care of her or is she a lost cause? And what about Grace's mother, Aura's grandmother? She may be the glue to this broken family, despite not having been part of the family for a long time.

A Blue So Dark is a haunting, literary read, perfect for those who enjoy their stories to unravel piece by piece. While reading this book, I couldn't help but see the similarities between it and Blue Plate Special by Michelle Kwasney. The use of an intergenerational plot line worked well here, and it'll appeal to teens who like their drama family-style. Likewise, watching how Aura needs to take charge and clean up after her mother's episodes reminded me of C.J. Omololu's Dirty Little Secrets. Fans of either of those books would find a lot to love here.

What worked for me was the slow pace and the strongly written details of Grace's descent into her illness. I thought Schindler nailed her metaphors here, using the sea and the beach to mimic drowning. Not only that, the ability to weave in a lot about art vs. reality and reality vs. perception will hit home with artistic types. However, throughout the book, I really wish I had gotten to know Aura more. This book felt at times more the story of Grace, told through the eyes of Aura. She worked more as a vessel rather than a participant in the story. I wanted to know more about her beyond the fact she likes art and a boy named Jeremy. But perhaps it's because of how the story works -- wherein she must be the mature caretaker of her mother -- that we don't get to know her better.

Pass this off to fans of realistic, literary reads. They will sink into this one. Likewise, this is a fantastic book to hand off to your adult young adult readers. The strong storyline and the intergenerational saga will stand out to them.




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Friday, December 24, 2010

Double Take: A Wink and a Nudge

Here's a double take for you -- one that for some reason kinda creeps me out.


An Na's The Fold was published in April 2008 by Putnam. It's a stand out cover, despite kind of giving me the creeps. This one's been out a couple of years and it's so memorable to me that when I saw this next one -- a book yet to be published -- I knew it was a double take.



My Not-So-Still Life by Liz Gallagher will be published in May 2011 by Wendy Lamb books. It's not exactly the same as the Na book, but the elements are the same: the one closed eye, the eye make up, the sideways face, the pink eye make up, and the short eye lashes.

I don't think one does it better or worse. They're different from other books, for sure.

Do you have a preference?




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Thursday, December 23, 2010

2010 Year in Review: Kimberly's Picks

Compared to previous years, I read a lot in 2010 - about 30 more books than I read in 2009.  Last year, I posted a run-down of the memorable books of the year, and I'm doing something similar for 2010.  Once again, these aren't books that were necessarily published in 2010, just ones I read in 2010.

Best Book of 2010
Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness

This was an easy pick - it's both the best book published in 2010 and the best book I read in 2010.  No other book even comes close to its combination of spectacular writing, important themes, and fascinating plot (I often say that these three things make up the Best Book Trifecta).




Best Book of 2010 - Runner Up
The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex

Published in 2007, this book was such a delightful and refreshing surprise.  It's interesting and oh so funny.  It's not often I laugh out loud while reading, but this one made me do just that page after page.  I can still recall favorite lines, even though I've yet to read it more than once.  Do yourself a favor: read this book and be happy.

Best Audiobook
His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman

2010 was the year I decided to give the audiobooks of my most favorite books ever a try, and I'm glad I did.  Pullman narrates and the dialogue is brought to life by a full cast.  All the characters sounded right and everything just worked perfectly.  I'll definitely be listening to these again soon.



Best Audiobook - Runner Up #1
Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd  

So lovely and heartbreaking - a coming of age story that breathes new life into the coming of age genre.  Wonderful combination of beautiful writing and excellent narration. 


Best Audiobook - Runner Up #2
Feed by M.T. Anderson

The story was good, but the audio production was amazing.  It's also the only audiobook I've listened to that was able to use sound effects without sounding incredibly cheesy.  In fact, the sound effects made the audiobook.  Kelly raved that it was the "best audiobook ever," and that's pretty close to the truth.  Read her Twitter-style review here. 



Worst Narration
Tie: First Light by Rebecca Stead and Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson

Both pretty good stories (First Light in particular) made almost unbearable by poor narration - bad accents, voices that sound much too old for the characters, hokey inflections.  Too bad.


Best Graphic Novel
Fables by Bill Willingham

2010 is the year I really dove into graphic novels.  There have been some definite clunkers (Scott Pilgrim) but also some definite winners (Brain Camp).  My favorites by far, though, have been the Fables comics by Bill Willingham.  They're full of clever ideas and interesting, three-dimensional characters, and I've been so impressed by how the story has developed.



Book I Most Look Forward to Giving to Patrons
Delirium by Lauren Oliver

This one doesn't publish until 2011, and I'm so excited to be able to tell my patrons about it.  It's a book whose subject matter (dystopian love story) is so in style right now, but it's also not predictable and the writing is excellent.  Look for more on the book from us at STACKED in 2011.

Biggest Disappointment   
Across the Universe by Beth Revis

It wasn't a bad book, but I was so psyched to read it after the stellar first chapter and so let down by the rest of it.  The concept is interesting and the cover is, in my opinion, terrific, so I know this one will sell itself, but I wanted so much more from it.




Worst Book Read in 2010
Going Bovine by Libba Bray

So bad.  Just so so bad.  I know many who love it, but no one could convince me that the book has any redeeming qualities.   The poor narration (I listened to it on audio) made it worse, but I would have disliked it intensely in print format as well.  Honorable Mention goes to Last Summer of the Death Warriors.

Most Anticipated of 2011

I loved the Abhorsen Chronicles when I was a teenager and am so thrilled that a prequel about Chlorr of the Mask is planned for release in 2011.  Looks like I'd better get started re-reading.





Most Anticipated of 20??

Who knows when this will be published.  Sigh.  At least I have the (what looks to be) awesome HBO series to look forward to in the spring.   




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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Winners of Fall for Anything


I am absolutely blown away with the number of entries for this contest -- 100 people entered! Trust me when I say I would love nothing more than to buy every single one of you a copy. But I did sweeten it a little bit and picked 4, rather than just 3, winners.

Congrats to Deborah, Nian, Alexandra, and Tiffany. All of your books have been sent via Amazon (unless you've been told otherwise).

Books are on the way and should hopefully be there before the New Year!

For those of you who didn't win, I urge you to go pick up a copy of this one. It will keep you warm all winter long.




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2010 Favorites: Jen's Picks

I read a lot this year. At the time of this post, I'm currently on my 244th book on the year (including 32 picture books). Going back through my Goodreads list was actually a lot of fun, especially when I noticed that my favorites covered the spectrum of genres, from dystopian to contemporary and historical fiction to nonfiction. I adored books published this year and devoured older books that I finally got my hands on. And I fell in love with young adult, middle grade, and adult books alike.

As 2010 was the year I started to listen to audiobooks (also known as the year my commute improved INFINITELY), I have included my five favorite audiobooks of the year, as well. While I'm most definitely not finished reading for the year, here are my literary highlights of 2010.

THE TOP TEN:

10. Sugar and Ice, by Kate Messner
Kate Messner is rapidly becoming one of my favorite middle grade authors. This story of Claire Boucher, a small town New York girl plucked from her maple farm and dropped into the world of competitive skating, is charming. Messner truly knows how to portray middle-schoolers, and her characters and situations are realistic and vivid. I especially appreciate the 'realness' of Claire, her friends, and her family. Claire loves math and is fascinated with Fibonacci numbers. Her family is close and loving, all pitching in to accomplish the tasks associated with running a maple farm. And her best friend Natalie is an amateur beekeeper. In a time when so many books seem to glorify materialism, Messner provides a bright spark of warmth, love, and humanity.

9. Monsters of Men, by Patrick Ness
Ness' conclusion to the amazing Chaos Walking trilogy was much more satisfying to me than Suzanne Collins' Mockingjay. As Todd and Viola approach their final confrontation with the cruelly compelling Mayor Prentiss, the Spackle take a more central role in the action.

8. Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie, by Jordan Sonnenblick
Thirteen year old Steven must cope with both adolescence and grief when his five year old brother Jeffy is diagnosed with leukemia. A combination of sad, poignant, heart-breaking, and funny, Steven and Jeffrey will stay in your heart. (The sequel, After Ever After, is also highly recommended.)

7. The Red Umbrella, by Christina Diaz-Gonzales
Diaz-Gonzales tells the story of fourteen year old Lucia, who, with her younger brother, becomes part of Operation Peter Pan, a movement which sent more than 14,000 children to the United States to live with friends, relatives, homes, or foster familes after Fidel Castro's regime took hold of Cuba. This book was full of heart, humor, and the simple daily events of growing up, filtered through an intriguing historical event.

6. Anna and the French Kiss, Stephanie Perkins
A charming, sparkling love story filled with realistic characters, clever dialogue, and palpable chemistry. Perkins is an author to watch. You can find my full review here.

5. Before I Fall, by Lauren Oliver
Oliver's debut novel manages the difficult task of humanizing a mean girl, Sam, who must repeat the same day over and over in order to atone after her death. The 'Groundhog Day'-like repetitions, while similar, each manage to have a nuance and originality of their own, making the gradual transformation of Sam ring true.

4. Mostly Good Girls, by Leila Sales
Sales writes a poignant tale of best-friendship torn apart that is so much more than the misleading pair of legs on the cover. The writing is fresh, witty, original, and utterly hilarious, and the anecdotal style of the chapters works very well.

3. Penny Dreadful, by Laurel Snyder
Magical and enchanting. Laurel Snyder creates a character to fall in love with in Penny, the young girl who can not help but wish it was magic that caused her family to move from a large, lonely house in the city to an inherited property in Tennessee when her father abruptly quits his job. As the family interacts with a large, quirky cast of characters, the reader is witness to the true power of friendship, love, and determination.

2. The Help, Kathryn Stockett
It's shocking to read this story of 1960s Mississippi and realize how far our society has come in the past 50 years. When young Skeeter Phelan sets out to write an expose of how black maids are treated in her community, lives are rocked. I was enraptured by the 3 distinct voices in this story. Stockett truly brings Skeeter, Miss Celia and Aibileen to life.


My #1 favorite book of the year: Room, by Emma Donoghue
Stunning, heartbreaking, and emotional, Room features some of the most amazing writing and perhaps the most vivid voice I have ever witnessed in print. Narrated by 5 year old Jack, Room tells the story of Jack and his Ma, who was abducted by Old Nick seven years ago and imprisoned in his fortress-like garden shed. While this premise may sound depressing, to Jack, the room they live is his entire world, and witnessing his world-view, love for his mother, and utter innocence and honesty is an emotional journey for the reader. It is ultimately a story of love, despair, discovery, and hope, one that will stay with me forever.

AUDIOBOOKS

5. The Goose Girl, by Shannon Hale
My first experience with Full Cast Audio, this was a lush production of Shannon Hale's adaptation of the traditional Goose Girl fairy tale. When Ani is betrayed and her identity taken over by her lady in waiting, Selia, Ani must somehow reclaim her true identity--in the meantime hiding in plain sight as a goose girl. Ani is a multi-layered character who overcomes her limitations in order to triumph, and the voice cast is top notch. Shannon Hale writes beautiful, vivid prose, and her phrasing paints stunning pictures.

4. Dairy Queen, by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
DJ Schwenk is a tomboy, not too smart, and responsible for helping run her family's dairy farm. But everything changes when she decides to try out for the football team and starts crushing hard on the quarterback of her rival team, Brian Nelson. Narrator Natalie Moore has a fantastic Wisconsin acc
ent and an open, engaging voice.

3. Life as We Knew It, by Susan Beth Pfeffer
When an asteroid hits the moon, no one knows how much life is going to change. But Miranda tells the whole story of her family and the country's struggle to survive in her diary, mixing the mundane concerns of adolescence with the greater food shortages and volcano eruptions threatening the world. Narrator Emily Bauer has the perfect innocent, confiding tone for this story.

2. I Am the Messenger,by Marcus Zuzak
Zuzak is simply amazing. When Ed Kennedy receives a playing card with four addresses on it, he has no idea how his life is about to change. Soon he is sent on a mission, traveling throughout his downtrodden city in order to help random strangers with their problems, serving as a guardian angel while simultaneously helping himself. You can find my full review here.

1. Born to Run, by Christopher McDougall
McDougall tells the story of the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico, an ancient tribe known for both their reclusion and their amazing long-distance running skills. Mixing together historical details with scientific facts about the benefits of barefoot running and the narrative of a modern-day 50 mile race through the Mexican desert, McDougall crafts a smart, engaging, and fascinating story. As a runner, I was riveted. As a reader, I was impressed.








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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

2010 Favorites: Kelly's Picks

Last year, instead of a top books or ranking, I threw down a handful of books that stood out to me as a reader and gave you the reasons why.

Welcome to the end of 2010, and I'm going to do exactly the same thing. Each of these books stood out to me as a reader for some reason and are books that will linger with me far beyond this year. These are books that took my breath away and leave me thinking about them all the time. They are the books I measure other books to, and ones where I can remember each character's name. I think about them in the shower, while driving and a song comes on the radio, where the lines are ones I've underlined and memorized. Unforgettable.

I've read, as of today, 217 books, so it was a crowded field. To be completely honest though, I was disappointed in many titles this year. More hype than substance surrounded many books and a lot of substance was overlooked for more surface issues (take a minute and reflect on this -- how much did the world spend thinking about covers and issues of appearance this year than on actual content?). Although I understand and appreciate cover hype, I think this year's obsession with covers and the "unveiling" of covers only furthered this for me. I want more discussion of content and less of cosmetics.

But I digress.

Although I'd prefer to hold off on posting this until the very end of 2010 (because we still have over a week left of the year), I know with the holidays, the forthcoming Cybils decision making discussions, writing, and other distractions this time of year, I won't get as much reading in as I'd prefer. Some of these you've likely heard me talking up and others, well, maybe less so. I'm sticking with YA titles again this year, since my adult reading of fiction was quite low this year and my adult non-fiction reading was, well, limited to books that would interest only the smallest segment of people. I'm also limiting them to books published in 2010.

Without further ado, here are the books I'm vetting this year as my favorites and ones which are worth your time, your money, and -- as the case seems to be this year -- your tears. In no particular order:



Stolen by Lucy Christopher

I've reviewed this one here, but the quick and honest truth is that Christopher has written a book that leaves the reader utterly conflicted throughout. Each page leaves you questioning what's going on and leaves you wondering if the feelings you have as a reader are right or wrong. Ty is a horrible person in this story -- he does something completely vile and wrong -- and yet throughout, you can't help but think he really, truly loves Gemma and that everything he does really is good and honest and out of love. I mean, I shouldn't want to love Ty but I just can't help it. And it feels so wrong and so right at the same time.



The Absolute Value of -1 by Steve Brezenoff

You can read my full review here. I have a soft spot for the average kid. The kid that's not the super star and the kid that's not the loser. For me, Brezenoff's book is the quintessential story of three average kids. He makes use of a convention I find challenging to master (starting the story at the end and working backwards) and he depicts three distinct voices through Simon, Lily, and Noah. For someone who's not usually a fan of multiple points of view, I was completely taken with the three (four, actually) I got here. The male voices are spot on and our female Lily is just as strong. Brezenoff's book is the perfect tale of the average kid navigating the tricky terrain, the painful events, and the completely normal aspects of being a teenager in high school.



Dirty Little Secrets by C. J. Omololu

You can read my full review here. I kind of overlooked this book when it first came out. It didn't really jump out at me, but when a colleague and trusted reading friend suggested I read this one because it left her speechless, I was on it. I devoured it. Lucy's story is actually less about her than it is about her relationship with her mother and her mother's relationship with things. The book takes place over one day and left me as a reader sick to my stomach. I felt sick for Lucy and I felt every single emotion she felt. Each item she touched, I touched too. And the end! It was absolutely perfect. There is no other way it could have ended for Lucy. She needed it, and so did I.


John Belushi is Dead by Kathy Charles

You can read my full review here. The sights and sounds of Los Angeles make this story of Hilda and Benji work. I absolutely love how much this one reminded me of a modern day take on Paul Zindel's The Pigman, one of my all-time favorite books. Pace, plotting, and characters are pitch perfect, but for me, it's the setting. It's haunting and beautiful and quirky and vivid. I could smell the city and the people and the places in this one.

---

Confession time before I continue here. I rarely reread a book. I think I can count on one hand the number of times I've done it. It's not that I don't believe in it or that there aren't books worth rereading, but rather, it's because there are so many other books that I want to read before I go back.

This year, I've reread two books by the same author.


Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers

You can read my full review here. There is not a single likable character in this book, and yet, I love each of these characters because they're so flawed and awful and miserable and horrific to watch. Each turn in this book left me feeling sick and beat up and yet, I wanted more. There is something punishing about this book. It's sick and relentless and brutal and won't even give you a resolution or satisfaction at the end. I still get queasy when I talk about this book. Yet, I can't stop talking about it.



Fall For Anything by Courtney Summers

You can read my full review here. Eddie, Milo, and Culler will live on for a long time in my mind. The pain and loss and spot-on characterization and emotion are hard to forget. Despite all of the weight in this book, the horrible things the characters endure, this is a book I want to be in. These are characters I want to know, even if it means getting nasty text messages once in a while. I'll let yesterday's review stand for the rest of my reasoning on this one, but you can bet I'll be revisiting this one again down the line for a third and forth read and pretending that Milo is all mine.

--

My criteria for absolute favorites is tough, I admit, and it leaves off a number of really worthy and wonderful titles I read this year. But I'm not objective when it comes to *my* favorites and I don't apologize for my tastes. However, I do want to spotlight a handful of other titles I read and liked a lot this year too, and these are titles I know will easily make top spots on other favorite lists. And believe me when I say there are still others I liked a lot this year but just aren't quite top of the tops for me:




Continue reading...

Monday, December 20, 2010

Fall for Anything by Courtney Summers

Eddie's dad took his life -- jumped off a building and died.

He left no note. No reason. No explanation.

This doesn't work for Eddie, and she's made it her mission to get to the bottom of this. To solve it, to come to terms with her grief and the loss. To understand what would possess her father, an artist who experienced brief but intense popularity, to jump off a building and end it all.

Enter Culler Evans: the last student her father ever took on. Another person struggling to come to terms with the loss. When Eddie gives Culler the last remains of her father, a box of photos she collects from his former office space, things change forever between them, between her and her best friend Milo, between her and her father, and between her and herself.

But Culler's not the person Eddie thinks he is. And maybe he's just what she needs.

Fall For Anything is Courtney's first foray outside the mean girl world, though Eddie is anything but untroubled. She's grief stricken, lost, and searching for answers to questions that may not have any. Best friend Milo wants to comfort her and help her through it, but he can't. He himself keeps a secret from Eddie: he remembers the day her father died picture perfect, unlike her, and he won't share it with her.

Although this book that focuses on grief, the true story is in the character development and the relationships that build among these perfectly flawed people. While we know Eddie is sad, there are so many more layers to her. With both Milo and Culler, she finds strong male companionship. She's both dependent and completely independent, as well as weak and strong. She loves them and lusts for them but rejects them, too. Eddie craves connection to her world but repels it at the same time.

Milo is the true constant in Eddie's life, despite how she treats him on more than one occasion. He's the kind of guy girls want in their life but the kind that always get treated like dirt. The ones we misjudge. The ones we as readers can't help but love a little bit (or a lot). Through the story, we see him lose his best friend in more than one way and our hearts ache for him.

Culler is the catalyst who moves the plot and characters forward. He himself is both lost and not lost as he leads Eddie on a search through the last photographs her father took, a journey meant to help both of them reconcile their grief and understand why her father did what he did. Culler is a photographer, and his method of coping and understanding is by processing through his camera lens. On their trip, he takes photos to capture thoughts and moments, many which include Eddie. These intimate exposures ultimately guide her to answers about who she is, and through this, she can construct the answers she needs about her father.

Courtney's writing is sparse and so much happens between the lines that you must slow down to pick up what she does. There are incredible parallels between the loss Eddie experiences with her father's suicide, the experience she has in her relationship with Culler, and the relationship she has with the photos Culler uses to "process" the loss of her father. It comes full circle. Subtle hints also suggest Eddie isn't really interested in a romance with either Milo or Culler, despite the overt fantasies she has about them. Instead, she desires a different kind of affection: she wants to be loved and cared for because she's a good and valuable person, something more important to her at this juncture than a traditional romantic relationship. It's part of her grieving process, and it helps us understand her that much more. A couple of reviews -- professional ones -- seem to have overlooked the precision and weight of each word in the story, shortchanging the role the writing itself plays as a character.

My one criticism is fairly minor, and it stuck out more on a second read. Eddie repeatedly discusses how she doesn't understand art and isn't really interested in it, either. But on more than one occasion, she seems quite knowledgeable on the topic, engaging in dialog about light exposure and photographic techniques. I didn't know Eddie well enough in this realm to tell if she was lying or if she was just that insecure (though I bet the latter).

The situations Eddie finds herself in are unrealistic, but because the boundaries in this story are pushed so far, they are completely believable. As a reader, you feel as exposed and vulnerable as the characters, smirking with Eddie one minute and wiping your eyes with your sleeve the next. You want to shake her to tell her she's making mistakes but at the same time, you want to sit back and let them happen. Despite the build up and execution of several plot twists, the strength in this book comes in its moments of complete restraint.

Fall for Anything is unapologetic. Hand this to readers looking for edgy, thought-provoking, raw reads. Although there will be little doubt on appeal to readers and fans of Courtney's prior works, this is the book that I think will really make her a bigger name and staple in the YA world, especially to those who may have too easily written her off as the person who writes about mean girls. It's brutal and honest . . . but don't go in expecting an answer to anything here.

You need to find the same thing Eddie did.

---

If you're intrigued, you still have time to enter to win one of three copies I'm giving away right here. I'll pull winners on Wednesday morning. Oh, and if that weren't enough, Courtney's got a short story told from Milo's perspective available, too. It's set prior to the events of Fall for Anything and there are no spoilers. Enjoy it here.




Continue reading...

Sunday, December 19, 2010

In My Mailbox (18)

In my mailbox (IMM) is a weekly meme started by Kristi of The Story Siren. It's a weekly look at the books received for review, purchased, or picked up at the library. Although she's not "officially" running it this week, I picked up a few books I'd like to keep record of anyway -- for me, IMM is about thanking the publishers and authors for their books, as well as keeping a record of what's coming up the pipes.


For review:



Will Work for Prom Dress by Aimee Ferris: Looks like a cute, lighthearted story.

The Princess of Las Pulgas by C. Lee McKenzie: A story about a girl who loses her father, then her home, then her school. It looks a little unrealistic/overdramatic to me.

Addicted to Her by Janet Nichols Lynch: A Cybils book.

Trapped by Michael Northrop: I am so jazzed about this one. Let's add up all the reasons why - snowpocalypse (I relate), teens stuck together in a small area from different backgrounds (ala The Breakfast Club) and the need to survive through it.


Purchased:



Stolen by Lucy Christopher: You've read my review. I really wanted to own a copy to reread this one, and immediately upon buying it, I lent it to a friend.


Other:

I got my book blogger holiday swap gift. It took me forever to figure out who the gift was from but I got it -- thanks to Martha at Reviews at Martha's Bookshelf!



When the Stars Go Blue by Caridad Ferrer: I have this one already, actually, and I'm reading it now in order to talk it to my 9th graders. I really dig it, and I cannot wait to give this copy away in February.

Songs for a Teenage Nomad by Kim Culbertson: A runaway mother, music, and romance in this one. It looks a little bit like Sorta Like a Rockstar in plot, which I can dig.

Martha also sent some swag which I plan on passing to the teens at my library. Thank you!




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