Monday, January 31, 2011

Choker by Elizabeth Woods

Cara and Zoe were best friends in their youth, but since sixteen-year-old Cara moved away, they've drifted. Now, Cara's lonely in her new school and is harassed by a group of mean girls in her school. What's worse is living next door to one of these girls who hosts parties nearly every weekend. It makes Cara's life miserable.

But when an incident in the school cafeteria brings Cara close to her big crush Ethan and Zoe mysteriously appears at her house, begging for shelter, things change. Suddenly, there's a dead girl, a missing girl, and perhaps a little more possibility for Cara to snag Ethan all for herself.

Choker is a fast-paced novel that can be devoured in one sitting -- which is saying a lot, since I don't usually read things cover to cover. This one, though, I completely ate up.

At the beginning of this novel, I didn't buy Cara's assessment of the girls in her school: she seemed convinced they were mean to her, but I had absolutely no evidence of this. The girls made fun of her but it didn't seem to me anything beyond typical (it's high school, after all). This really bothered me, and it made me question my belief in Cara as a narrator almost straight away.

As the plot unraveled further, I saw that my assessment was solid here. I saw what was happening in this book from the first pages, even though I didn't want to acknowledge it immediately. That is to say, this book is really predictable. Almost too predictable. I knew what was coming well before it came. The end didn't surprise me in the least and in fact, I was pretty let down that it didn't take a twist I didn't expect. Unfortunately, I think that teen readers will see this ending coming from a mile away, as well.

When I finished the book, I couldn't quite put words to what bothered me the most. I don't think the predictability is what did it for me. I think that this is the kind of book that, had it been written down for a younger teen or tween audience, would be so much stronger. I think readers in that range haven't quite read enough to predict the outcome and would find what happens to be really compelling and exciting. I don't think there's enough stuff with this sort of edge to it for that readership. However, because this book DOES have a lot of really tough stuff in it -- sex and drinking -- this isn't an appropriate title to hand to those younger readers.

At times, I found the writing to be a little bit clunky, as well. I think it may have gotten tied up in the plotting here. There's an overuse of verbs and descriptors that aren't necessary, and I wish those words would have been used to build up the plot arc a bit more. Some of the repetitive images that come up didn't seem to serve a greater purpose; they were there to slow me down and make me question my instincts about where the story was going. That tactic didn't work for me as a reader, though I think it could work for a younger set.

That said, I think that Woods's debut is one worth reading, despite the faults. It's an easy one to read because of the pacing and because you will be wondering whether you've figured the game out or not. Fans of mysteries will probably like this (though they will know what's coming) but you might want to try this book out on your fans of contemporary, edgy titles. It'll give them a taste of a different genre. I think, too, if you know your middle grade/early high school readers -- especially those in the 8th and 9th grade set -- and you know that the heavy stuff won't be problematic, you may want to try this one out with them.

Continue reading...

Saturday, January 29, 2011

In My Mailbox (22)

Welcome to In My Mailbox, a weekly feature hosted by Kristi at The Story Siren to highlight the books purchased, received for review, or picked up at the library in the last week.

It's been a rough week - extremely busy with little pay off. Fortunately, there were some good books picked up during the week and a spot of awesome news that came through Friday night. I'll share that at the end.

For review:

Jenna and Jonah's Fauxmance by Emily Franklin and Brenden Halpin: This one looks like a lighthearted comedy. I read the pair's Notes from the Blender and loved it, so I'm excited for this one.

These Things Hidden by Heather Gudenkauf: I got my first ever pitch via Twitter for this one, and it is completely up my alley. Secrets, sisters, and an Iowa setting.

Wither by Lauren DeStefano: This one came in a cool black box. It was packed in pink confetti and came with a small tube of pink candy. Since it's my third copy of this dystopian, I guess that means I really should bump it up my to-read list since it's one that'll be getting a lot of buzz when it drops in March. The other copies I plan on passing off to my teens at work after their first book club meeting (more on that in a second!).

From the library:

Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A. S. King: I've been wanting to read this one for a while, and now that it got a Printz honor, I am trying to bump it up my list.

XVI by Julia Karr: This debut title is a dystopian got high praises from some folks I know and trust, and it also happens to be the book my teen book club chose as their first title. Looks like excellent discussion material. And since I've been asked kindly by more than one person, I will share how the discussion goes when we finish -- we're lucky enough to also get a chance to chat with the author during our book club meeting. I'm all about the interaction and cannot wait to see the looks on my teens' faces.

I had a program to go to on Friday as a kickoff to planning Summer Reading at the library, and on the way, one of my colleagues had two graphic novels to pass to someone more interested. I was glad to take those off her hands. Then, I was also a door prize winner at the event, which meant I got to pick up another prize book from a small pile.

Level Up by Gene Luen Yang: Family, video games, and a bit of magical realism in this graphic novel.

Empire State: A Love Story (Or Not) by Jason Shiga: Shiga wrote Meanwhile which got a lot of praise recently. This one looks really, really up my alley after my Julia Wertz binge, even though the stories are quite different. This one's about romance and New York City and the illustrations looks excellent.

How Lamar's Bad Prank Won a Bubba-Sized Trophy by Crystal Allen: This tween/early teen novel is about a guy who likes to bowl. Supposed to be quite funny and has a little romance in it.

So on to the good news from this week:

This week, I finally heard word that a proposal Sarah and I put together for this summer's American Library Association annual conference was accepted! We'll be running a table talk all about (drum roll!) contemporary young adult literature and why it's such an important collection area, despite being overlooked again and again on so many "best of" lists. We're focusing on a number of different topics, including the ways today's debut and new authors match up with standard authors, crucial themes emerging in the literature, names you need to know, websites to keep track of, and more. To say we're thrilled would be an understatement. There is nothing more exciting than sharing something I'm passionate about and firing other people up about them, too. So if you'll be in New Orleans this summer for the conference, stop by our session! Even if you can't make it there, we're hoping we can post something on our blogs to share ideas with all our readers.

Continue reading...

Friday, January 28, 2011

Beautiful by Amy Reed

When Cassie begins 7th grade in a new school, she doesn't want to be ordinary. Doesn't want to be part of the masses of kids who are all the same, boring and typical and average. And she's lucky when Alex notices her, introduces her to a group of guys who think she's the most beautiful thing they've seen. Little 7th grade Cassie's made it cool with a group of 9th graders and knows her year will be much more than boring.

Thing is, these kids aren't really the popular kids or the cool kids. They're the kids who are into doing bad things. Into drugs and alcohol and abusing any and all substances they can get their hands on. Into lots of sex. Into lots of parties.

Cassie gets caught up in this world until she loses the one thing she's learned to care about the most.

Beautiful is the ultimate readalike to Ellen Hopkins -- it is edgy, dark, and immediately gripping. This fast-paced read dives deep into the personal crisis of a girl coming into her own and making a series of poor choices that, in the end, we don't know the ultimate repercussions of. It's a satisfying ending, to say the least, for those who are comfortable with a book that doesn't answer as many questions as it brings up.

I wavered back and forth on the believability of Cassie as a 7th grader, as many of the situations she finds herself in felt much older, much more late high school than middle school, but when I finished the book, I thought she was exactly the age she needed to be. Getting involved in this older group exposed her to things she'd otherwise not experience until high school, and since the kids she was with were 9th graders, their own desires to feel and act older had an impact on Cassie, too.

Let me put it more bluntly: Cassie gets into drugs, and it's not pretty. She's not the beautiful girl she's been told she is. She's ugly. Day long drug-induced hazes and black outs are what makes one pretty. As a reader, you're right there with her, wanting to tell her to stop it and get a grip but at the same time, you want to see her figure it out for herself. She's so young and naive. And the thing is, she's also SMART. She's in advanced classes and does exceedingly well without an ounce of effort (though it's likely the adderall helps out a bit). Cassie is used and abused by those she hangs out with.

There's a scene in a discussion Cassie has with Sarah, a girl with whom she becomes quite close, that I think sort of defines the entirety of Cassie -- she asks Sarah if having sex is supposed to be boring. If she's supposed to get something out of it or if it's meant to just be something girls do and deal with. Cassie's on the verge of something here. She knows and doesn't know how wrong what she's doing and feeling are but she can't put those pieces together right. She's a tough sort of character to hold in your head and one who you will want to dissect and discuss -- do we ever know who she really is? For me, this conflict of character worked really well.

One contentious point in the book comes through the portrayal of the parents. We get very little face time with mom and dad in this book, other than knowing that they're married and still around. Dad and mom both seem to have an idea of what's going on with Cassie, though neither acts upon it. Although it seems a little unrealistic, what made this work for me was remembering this book is told from Cassie's perspective; her skewed perception and her drug-influenced thinking would make her parents to be as they are. I think both her parents were much more concerned and made concerted effort to help, but she couldn't see it. She was elsewhere.

Although I like the ending, the unknowing of what happens to Cassie, I was really sad that the end comes at not the expense of herself but at the expense of another character. A character I wanted to know more about but know I couldn't learn more about because Cassie wouldn't let me. Obviously, this character meant a lot more to Cassie than we're ever led to believe, but it would be impossible to know more than we do or else the ending wouldn't serve as something meaningful to her.

My favorite part of the entire book, though, was the writing. Reed writes in an incredible stream of conscious style and the way the words are tied together really give us the flesh of who Cassie is. I'm right there in her mind and I can't get out of it. It reminded me a lot of Blake Nelson's Girl and this is a connection I really appreciate.

Even though our main character in this book is a 7th grader, this is a book with appeal to older readers. I would be brave enough to say, too, if you know your reader and think that a middle schooler could handle the challenges here, you could sell this to them, too. But I emphasize: know your reader because this is not an easy story to read or understand, and I don't mean that only in the sense of the drugs and sex that are involved. Fans of Ellen Hopkins (whose blurb on the paperback was enough to sell one of my teens on it), Gail Giles, Courtney Summers, and other unflinching contemporary fiction with real voice and pulse will eat this up. To say I'm eager for Reed's summer release, Clean, after reading Beautiful would be an understatement.

Continue reading...

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Enchanted Ivy by Sarah Beth Durst

In Enchanted Ivy, Lily is visiting her dream college, Princeton, with her mother and grandfather for her grandfather's 50th class reunion.  Her grandfather, being deliberately cryptic, takes her to a super-secret meeting on campus where she's told she's been selected to take the Legacy Test.  Her task is to find the Ivy Key.  She's given no other hints or direction - it's simply "Find the Ivy Key."  If she passes, she's guaranteed acceptance into Princeton.  If she fails, she's not guaranteed acceptance, but she'll still get her fair shot with all the other applicants.

It seems like a win-win scenario: she won't really lose anything by trying, and if she passes the test, the stress of applying and waiting for the acceptance letter will be off her shoulders for good.  Of course, as soon as Lily undertakes the test, she discovers that nothing is as it seems - the gargoyles start talking to her, she's being followed around by a boy with orange hair who says he wants to help (but does he?), and then she's attacked by a creature that can't possibly exist.  Suddenly, the test has turned dangerous and the stakes have risen.

I loved the idea of a Da Vinci Code-type scavenger hunt on a college campus, and the idea of talking gargoyles was different enough to intrigue me.  Talking gargoyles have of course been done before, but at least they're not fairies or vampires or something else that I'm completely burned out on.  I was interested to see what Durst would do with them.

Unfortunately, the scavenger hunt only lasted about a third of the book (maybe even less), and the plot devolved from that point.  On her quest to find the Ivy Key, Lily discovers that Princeton is the gateway to a magical realm, another Princeton populated by a bevy of magical creatures including dragons and various were-animals.  The rest of the book involves Lily's interactions with the orange-haired boy and the graduates who assigned her the test, her explorations of the magical Princeton and its denizens, and several (and I mean several) revelations about her own family (including her mentally unstable mother).

It could have been interesting, but it's mostly just messy.  The plot points are thrown at the reader rapidly without much fleshing out.  There's certainly something to be said for a fast-moving plot (I'm a huge fan when it's done well), but it still needs to be written convincingly.  Durst didn't make me believe in her story, and as a result I couldn't get lost in it.  There's too much going on.  There's also a fairly pedestrian love triangle that is so underdeveloped I wish it weren't there at all.  (This love triangle does bring us some monumentally cheesy lines about soul mates and the like - perhaps my younger self would not have rolled her eyes as I did a few weeks ago when I read the book.)

I think the story would have been so much stronger if Durst had weeded out a few of the stray plot points and concentrated her efforts on fleshing out the central ideas.  The story would have been simpler and there would have been a lot fewer "oh my gosh!" moments, but the characters and setting would also have been given more time to shine.  Sometimes simplifying a book's plot can make it a more complex read in terms of character or theme.

My other main complaint is that the other Princeton wasn't developed enough for my liking.  I'm a hardcore fantasy lover and read it almost exclusively as a teenager - I demand a lot from my magical worlds.  Other readers may not be so demanding and may actually appreciate a lot less world-building in their fantasy novels (those weirdos...I kid, I kid).  It didn't help that one of Lily's first sights when she's in the magical Princeton is of dragons flying over a playing field.  From then on, other Princeton looked like Hogwarts to me.

Enchanted Ivy had a lot that appealed to me as a student.  I would have grabbed this title my junior year of high school when I was feeling the pressure about getting into the good colleges (and I wasn't even applying to places like Princeton).  There aren't enough books that talk about the college experience, and while Lily isn't really a college student yet, at least she's on a college campus, so we're halfway there.

I can appreciate what Durst was trying to do with Enchanted Ivy, but it didn't really pull itself together in the end.  I'd recommend the book to teens who are looking for a different sort of fantasy - not your usual paranormal or fairy tale re-telling, but also not something that requires a huge investment in world-building on the scale of a lot of epic fantasies out there today.  It's a light read and doesn't take long to get through, but it could have been much better.

Continue reading...

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Lois Lowry: A Cover Retrospective

We haven't done one of these in a while, but I thought it was time to bust out a standard middle grade author for a little cover retrospective: Lois Lowry. She's written a number of series (including Anastasia Krupnik, J. P. Tate, and Gooney Bird) and many stand alone books. I won't hit every book, but just a few.

Without further ado, here's a little look back!

The original Anastasia Krupnik debuted in 1979 with this cover. It's timely and definitely fits with how middle grade (and then it may have even been considered teen) books looked. I love a girl with glasses on the cover. There are so few of them today! This cover's also seen a few manifestations since:

I love how each of these covers is the story of when it was released. We have our mass market paperbacks (including the one we all probably ordered through Scholastic), the one with the best tag line ever ("The girl who thinks for herself"), the cover that screams 1990s (and does anyone else see Topanga from Boy Meets World channeled there?), and the Spanish language cover.

A Summer to Die was Lowry's first standalone novel, and it published in 1977. The cover's not entirely memorable, though it does have a little bit of a timeless feel to it. It actually reminds me a lot of Shannon Hale's Goose Girl and River Secrets.

In other covers, we have much different feels than in the original. We have two with girls hanging out (and come on, we know what's going to happen). The middle one here reminds me of a famous painting, too. But that last one? I love it so much. I think the pink and green there are decidedly middle grade feeling, and the flowers -- the lone stem of them -- are so evocative. I have seen this be the direction middle grade covers have gone and I'm really enjoying it. It makes the books feel more grown up to those readers in 5-7th grade while still being appropriate content wise.

The One Hundreth Thing About Caroline is the first title in Lowry's J. P. Tate series, and it published in 1983. There's nothing too spectacular about this cover. I'd rather point out the later edition's cover on this one:

If ever a cover screamed early 1990s, I think this is it. We have the hair, the hair, and oh, the hair! I bet that cute boy (because you know he is) even used some Aquanet to achieve that look. It reminds me so much of the way the Babysitter's Club books looked. And how different this is from the original cover, too. Completely different vibes.

Rabble Starkey was published in 1987. Can I say this is the best cover on any book ever? This girl strikes me as being sick -- like one of those flu sorta things -- and mom's giving her a little love and a quilt and teddy bear to go snuggle up. But look, guys! Check out what she's reading: a dictionary and a thesaurus. Roget's even! The attention to detail on this cover astounds me. If I were of the age to read this book when it came out, just that alone would have been a sale for me.

Here's the thing -- the book is about the girl's mom becoming mentally incapacitated. The girl has to move in with her friend. I'm sure that the girl is so happy mom remembered to send her packing with her dictionary and thesaurus.

Can't mention Lowry without mentioning her classic Number the Stars, published in 1989. This is a book and a cover that has stood the test of time. Although the color's changed a bit, and the placement of the Star has changed, the girl remains constant. This cover, for me, is part and parcel of the story. One look at the cover and I know immediately what the book is and what the story is.

And speaking of classic Lowry, let's not forget this one:

The Giver came out in 1993, right at the time I was reading middle grade books. I remember this cover distinctly, and it, like Number the Stars is so memorable. I know immediately the story. This is also a cover that has not changed; it's the same one today that it was when it first came out.

A little searching does pull up a few other covers. I suspect some are foreign, but they're all quite different from the original:

What's interesting to me is how much color there is on all of these, even the last one which is still primarily gray. Such a contrast to the black, stark cover above. And the blue one (which is in Spanish, I believe) is downright creepy looking.

Let's fast forward to 2004, when Lowry released The Messenger, the second companion book to The Giver (the first companion being Gathering Blue).

I kind of hate this cover. It's washed out and the boy's face is just floating there. I'm kind of surprised this is a 2004 cover, too. Seems to me much earlier. Fortunately, we have a revision here which do work.

I'm not sure where the first cover is from, but I'm fairly certain it's a foreign cover. The second one though I dig. I love the color and the creepy floating hands much more than the creepy floating face in the forest in the original cover. It seems more, I don't know, Messanger-y to me.

2006 brought perhaps one of my favorite covers for Lowry's Gossamer. I also love the title. What this cover does is so nice -- it's incredibly simple with the gray face and hand against a black background. The title is in color, though, and it definitely pops. And I like it much more than the other edition's cover, which has a little too much going on for me.

Sparkles? Check. Butterfly? Check.
I think this one is a little too much gossamer for me, personally.

I've got one more Lowry cover to share, and that's 2008's The Willoughbys.

This one is so simple, but it works so well. I love the strangely shaped house in the middle, and I dig the black and white highlighted by just the smallest bits of red (and that red door!). The font is fun, too, and gives the title a willowy feel.

Your turn -- what are your thoughts on any of these covers? Personally, I think my favorite might be Rabble Starkey for the obvious shout out to two of the most important books in the English language, followed by The Willoughbys.

Continue reading...

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Real Mermaids Don't Wear Toe Rings by Helene Boudreau

Jade is 13 years old and has just gotten her period, right in the middle of a department store changing room. She thought that trying to find the perfect bathing suit for her best friend Cori's pool party was bad enough, but this takes trauma to a whole new level. And, of course, due to embarrassment over her late blooming, Jade had lied to Cori years earlier about already getting her period. So the only person she can talk to about everything is her father, who's already overprotective due to the sad death of Jade's mother by drowning the previous year. Which leads to Jade's father careening down the aisle of the drugstore, cart filled with every sanitary product imaginable---right in front of Luke, Jade's crush. Could life get any worse?

Well...yes. A few hours later, while relaxing in a bath with Epsom salts to help her painful cramps--Jade suddenly sprouts a tail. A real, live, holy-crap-I'm-a-mermaid??? tail.

Jade soon discovers that her mother was also a mermaid, and her parents were just waiting to see if Jade would show any 'symptoms' someday. But if her mother was a mermaid, that begs the question: How could a mermaid drown? Upon investigation, Jade soon discovers an entire world of mermaids in the waters around her coastal town, both friend and foe.

Real Mermaids Don't Wear Toe Rings was absolutely adorable. I think that mermaids may be the one type of paranormal novel that I have not yet burnt out on. While many aspects of this novel were fantastical, Boudreau grounds the more far-fetched aspects of the story in the protagonist, Jade, an utterly realistic thirteen year old dealing with everyday issues: getting her period, crushing on a seemingly unattainable boy, struggling with body image, and feeling insanely guilty for not being able to tell ANYONE the biggest secret of her life. Jade is self-conscious about her body and worried about acceptance, timid with boys yet utterly at home with her friends. Also, it is wonderful to see a character who worries about her stomach and her thighs without having these worries take over her entire life. She is also close with her father, who is both dealing with the aftermath of his wife's death while struggling with being a single parents. Jade's father is overwhelmingly supportive without being overbearing.

The portrayal of Jade and Cori's friendship is also utterly refreshing. Cori is a three-dimensional character who is slighted when Jade distances herself after the big discovery. Cori's reactions and emotions are utterly believable, but it is also wonderful to see how she stands by Jade in the end. Boudreau infuses this friendship with realism and the small details that truly bring these characters to life.

The author creates a rich, unique mermaid mythology in Real Mermaids Don't Wear Toe Rings, not content to simply use the traditional 'palace under the sea' tale that we see so often. The details of Jade's transformation and her mother's heritage are explained well and fully, and the mermaid creatures living in the waters around Jade's town have their own twist, as well. In a far-fetched tale such as this one, water-tight details help to make the unbelievable believable.

This was a fun, quick read that left me with a smile on my face. While this book would most likely appeal to a middle grade audience, the lower end of YA would also enjoy it. I would of course hand this to fans of Tera Lynn Child's Forgive My Fins, but a readalike more similar in tone would definitely be Erin Dionne's Models Don't Eat Chocolate Cookies.

Continue reading...

Monday, January 24, 2011

Entangled by Cat Clarke

Grace wakes up and begins writing. It's all she's allowed to do in this white room, with white sheets, white walls, a white floor.

She starts on Day 3 of being in this place.

Entangled is a story that unravels bit by bit through Grace's diary. Each page brings us one step closer to understanding where she is and why she's here. Something horrible has happened in her life, though it's never entirely clear what THE event was that caused things to spiral. As readers, we're left to piece together our conclusions.

Clarke does something really smart in the way she invites us into Grace's world. The people in her life are introduced purposefully: we first meet Ethan. He plays a large part in Grace being where she is and he's a large point of reference for her while she writes through her thoughts. He's -- if you will -- her "after." After we get to know and build a trust with Ethan, we're taken back a step further to meet best friend Sal. We know early on that something awful happened to Sal. Grace is there to support her, but Sal pushes her away until she ultimately blames her for the events. Their relationship is rocky. Sal's sort of that middle place: she's not Grace's "after" nor her "before." Then we meet Nat. He's the guy Grace has a real relationship with. She spends a lot of time thinking about him in her writing and talking specifically about those feelings she's developed and the uncertainty of his reciprocating them. She wants to tell him she loves him, but how? Fortunately, he makes the first move.

Or is it so fortunate?

I'll say this much: he's also not her "before." He's right there with Sal in that middle area. Then there is her "before." Because I don't want to give it away, I won't hint as to what it is. When you read this book, Grace drops clues leading you to what it might be. But then it comes together in a much more shocking manner and in a way that explains Grace and her actions so well. And because we're working through these things with Grace in her diary, we see it surprises her, too. It's a thread she herself doesn't fully grasp until the end, though the end is really her beginning.

I've explained far more about plot than I intended but that's because this is a tough book to describe succinctly. There is so much going on in Grace's mind that it would be impossible to boil it down to one thing that causes her to end up in this place. It's also hard not to spoil the revelations and twists that happen. But if I were to say what my impression of the book is it's this: Entangled is a story of grief. It's not just about grief, though. It's also about love and romance and what it feels like to hit rock bottom and be unsure how to claw back up and out.

Clarke's voice for Grace is one of the most realistic 17-year-olds I've read. Grace, despite being in her mental state, is witty and thoughtful, as well as sad, broken, and ultimately, hopeful. The way she interacts with Nat, Ethan, and Sal are realistic, and the way their friendships and romances wax and wane are spot on. And the feelings she has she doesn't hold back on: there is one scene where she feels so alone and broken, and she is uninhibited talking about how another girl's ability to recognize she exists meant the world to her. It's in those moments that we really connect with Grace and want her to succeed.

Grace isn't necessarily a good girl, nor is she really a bad girl. She's flawed. Some readers will be repulsed by her and find how she acts and treats those around her inappropriate. Others will find her extremely likable. I found myself rooting for her completely -- she's got it rough, and it seems like so many people aren't willing to reach out to her in this time. Except Ethan, that is. But here's the thing: I'm not sure Ethan's really there pulling for her either. I think it's Grace pulling for herself the entire time. She is both her best friend and worst enemy, and it all goes back to her being perfectly 17.

This book is extremely well constructed. At times, you feel like you know what's going to happen, but then Clarke pushes a new twist in the narrative -- into Grace's diary -- and suddenly things aren't as clear as they seemed. In the end, though, they fuse in a way that makes perfect sense. We have immediate access to Grace's mind; we're working things out right along with her, and it's usually pretty sloppy and all over the place. But, Grace is much smarter than she gives herself credit for, and we're lucky to see that ourselves.

Entangled reminded me of what Courtney Summers does in Fall for Anything -- we have a girl struggling to come to terms with unfettered grief. And what I love is how different this book is from Summers's. The way Grace works through it is unique, and that's precisely why I think these two titles are such great readalikes to one another. They're almost in an interesting conversation with one another, reassuring the reader that there is no one way to work through anything and there's no one answer to right and wrong. There's nothing that can explain some of the most mysterious and horrible aspects of life.

What probably excites me most about this book is that someone can read it and completely disagree with every word of my interpretation of intention. There is so much going on and so many possibilities at the core of this novel, that another reader can walk away thinking this book is primarily about the destructive power of love and friendship. And you know, they're right, too. This is also a book about self mutilation and a book about teen pregnancy (and there is an abortion, which is a topic recently discussed here).

Without doubt, this is one of the strongest books I've read in a long time, though it certainly won't be for everyone. It's intense and dark, and it is completely unflinching. Clarke does not shy away from graphic details -- they're real but never once over-the-top or included simply to get a rise from the reader. It goes back to Grace being 17 and to her dealing with grief the only way she knows how.

I hope this book makes its way overseas soon, as this is a UK release by a debut author. You can purchase it right here. I am so glad I bought it because it's one I know I'll revisit.

Continue reading...

Saturday, January 22, 2011

In My Mailbox (22)

Welcome to another installment of In My Mailbox, hosted by Kristi at The Story Siren. It's a chance to highlight the books received for review, from the library, or purchased in the last week.

Can I just say how nice and quiet it was? Because it was! I've had a chance to catch up on some back list titles lately, as well as some new ones, without a lot of review obligations.

For review:


From the library:

Paranoid Park by Blake Nelson: I read this one this week after finishing Nelson's classic Girl. Let's say I'm on a kick here. I will post a review soon, but this one is high on guy appeal, is fast paced, and reminded me a bit of Mark Shulman's Scrawl.


Entangled by Cat Clarke: This debut book made its way from the UK for me. A contemporary fiction that I'm about half way through. Great voice in this one.

Continue reading...

Winner of Harmonic Feedback

Thanks to everyone who entered for the chance to win a copy of Harmonic Feedback. This was the second highest number of entries on a book contest -- what fantastic response!

The random generator chose Aydrea as the winner, and she's been in touch and the book's on the way.

Stay tuned for another giveaway in February, and don't forget you can enter here for a chance to win Flash Burnout.

Continue reading...

Friday, January 21, 2011

Cover Talk: Trend Within a Trend?

Obscured or cropped images of girls on the covers of YA books is no new trend, but I've noticed a different sort of twist on the idea on a couple of covers lately.


XVI by Julia Karr
Delirium by Lauren Oliver

Both of these covers seem to have two layers of images, where the top layer consists of a solid color, which is then partially carved away to spell out the title as well as reveal an image of a girl in the bottom layer.  The technique makes the girl do double-duty: she's a snippet of the protagonist (we assume) as well as the way we read the title.  Additionally, both of these books are dystopias and both are published around the same time (Delirium on February 1 and XVI on January 6).

I'm almost positive I've seen other books with similar cover designs.  What do you think - eye-catching or not?

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

CSN Giveaway Winner!

Remember that giveaway we ran back in December of 2010?  We've finally chosen a winner...and it's our first entrant, Beth S.!  I plugged the numbers into and it really spit back number 1.  Thanks everyone who participated.

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Guest Post: Laura Arnold on Titles to Watch

Today we have a very special guest blog with us: Laura Arnold, senior editor at Razorbill. She's here to share some of her favorite recent and forthcoming YA titles -- the ones you need on your radar.

Hi everyone! I’m very excited to be writing a guest blog post here. Kelly and I were friends in college, lost touch after graduation, and reconnected several years later on Facebook when I was looking at her profile and realized, “Hey, she’s a librarian who specializes in YA!” and Kelly realized, “Hey, she’s a children’s book editor!” So here I am.

I worked for several years at HarperCollins, where I learned so much and worked with amazing people, and I recently joined the fantastic team at Razorbill as a senior editor. I focus primarily on teen and middle-grade fiction, but make the occasional exception for a super cool nonfiction or picture book project.

She said, “Write about whatever you want,” so I’m going to be very casual and chatty and just tell you about some 2011 books for teens that are going to rock your socks off…

Technically Tempestuous (HarperTeen) went on sale at the tail end of 2010, but this gorgeous book is a conclusion to a trilogy that I just love, Lesley Livingston’s Wondrous Strange series. If you haven’t discovered these books yet, I hope you’ll give them a try. They’re urban faerie paranormal romances, yes, and I know you’ve seen that before—but the characters are so vibrant and original and the strand of Shakespeare that winds through the complex, rich plots is so lyrical. I think you’ll find them to be extremely different from the sea of paranormal you’ve undoubtedly been experiencing.

Across the Universe (Penguin/Razorbill) by Beth Revis is a book I was eyeing long before I came to work at Razorbill, which publishes it. It can be pitched as “Titanic meets Brave New World,” and it’s a romance/murder mystery set on a future space ship. It’s awesome. Again, I know you’re seeing a glut of dystopian in the YA sphere (or if you haven’t yet, get ready, because every publisher has ‘em coming out like dominoes) but this novel is very deep and different. It also has one of the best first chapters I’ve ever read in my life.

Starcrossed (HarperTeen) by Josephine Angelini…Modern-day Nantucket. Ancient Greek mythology. Super sexy romance. Superhuman powers. I’m not going to say anything more because the plot is too special to give away. This book will go on sale May 31, and it is going to explode like a, well, supernova. You heard it here first.

I’d like to give another Razorbill shout-out to the Strange Angels series by Lili St. Crow. For those of you who like your vampires with a dash of kickass, you’ll love this Buffy-esque heroine, Dru Anderson. These books are smart and sexy—no wilting violet here! Book 5 in the series, Reckoning, comes out this fall. Okay okay, and one more Razorbill book (not from 2011) that you should go find is The Betrayal of Natalie Hargrove, Lauren Kate’s first book, published before Fallen, is Macbeth set in high school.

Cold Kiss (HarperTeen) by Amy Garvey. A friend of mine edited this novel, and it’s a book that had everyone who read the manuscript coming into work the next day clutching it (or their e-reader) to their chest and saying, “OMG, this was so good.” Beautiful, beautiful writing and a story that will grab your heart. It’s about a girl who resurrects her dead boyfriend and must deal with the repercussions thereafter.

The Way We Fall (Hyperion) by Megan Crewe. I’m not sure if I’m allowed/supposed to admit this, but I lost this book at auction last year. However, it sold to a rockstar editor who’s another friend of mine, so I didn’t gnash my teeth too violently. (Only a little bit.) This one is dystopian (what did I tell you about the lineup the publishers have in store for you?), but the kind of creepy, spooky dystopian where it starts out in a very recognizable and normal modern day but then … something happens. The scariness of what happens is counterbalanced by the beauty and simplicity of the prose. I think this novel will be a memorable one.

The Fitzosbornes in Exile (Knopf) by Michelle Cooper. And now for something completely different…if you like Gothic novels, historical fiction, or the classic I Capture the Castle, you’ll love The FitzOsbornes in Exile and its predecessor (which I recommend reading first) A Brief History of Montmaray. It’s about a girl who lives off the coast of Spain and France on a tiny (fictional) island of which she is a princess. But don’t go thinking tiaras. These books are set in the 1930s, right before the outbreak of World War II, and they’re filled with spying, danger, and of course coming of age.

Have you read any of these? Are they on your radar? I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments!

Thanks for stopping by, Laura. And you can keep your eyes here for a giveaway of Starcrossed when pub date draws a little nearer, too!

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