Our final post as part of horror Mondays at STACKED is from Courtney Summers. Courtney's a bit of an expert on horror, having tackled real-life horrific events in Cracked Up to Be, Some Girls Are, and Fall for Anything, and, in her forthcoming June 2012 title This is Not a Test, she'll be tackling what happens when real-life horror meets the things nightmares are made of: zombies.
Courtney has offered up her favorite horror films every year since 2009 on her blog, and this year, she's also spotlighted a book as part of Nova Ren Suma's "What Scares You" series that scared her into a fascination with horror as a kid (and, if you haven't, you need to check out Nova's series of posts). It seemed only natural to ask if she'd talk about a few of the horror novels-turned-film that have stuck with her for one reason or another.
The Amityville Horror
The thing the book and the movie both have in common is that they are not very good but that doesn't mean they're not worth watching or reading! The movie is pretty slow moving and not truly scary (unless you scare easily?), but there is something about watching James Brolin get angrier and angrier throughout that is quite compelling and unintentionally hilarious. The book reads a bit dry but there was one moment in it that kinda freaked me out, but I can't tell you about it because it's a spoiler. (Spoiler: The house is haunted!) In any case, you should check both out because you don't want to be the only person at a cocktail party who HASN'T read or seen The Amityville Horror. I mean, really. How embarrassing.
Read. Watch. Now. That is all. Seriously. That is all. It is all I need to say. You must.
There's a reason Kathy Bates won the Oscar for her portrayal of Annie Wilkes, an obsessed superfan who kidnaps her favourite author and holds him hostage in her remote cabin in the woods for such a long time it makes me want to cry just thinking about it (poor author). That reason is because she is seriously creepy. Damn. The movie is intense and claustrophobic and guess what? The book it is based on, by the master, Stephen King? The same. Except more. CAN YOU HANDLE IT?
In all honesty, it's been a long time since I read the book. I was young when I first picked it up, but I remember being pretty devastated that Robert Bloch's description of Norman Bates didn't sound anything like Anthony Perkins, who I was obsessed with at the time. The other impression I had of this book was how creepy and skeevy I found Norman Bates, which is probably exactly how I'm supposed to find him. Anthony Perkins's interpretation of the character is quite empathetic (in my opinion), which (in my opinion) makes him that much more terrifying. Look, I really shouldn't have to sell you on Psycho. It's a CLASSIC. It had an IMPACT. Go read it and then see it. I mean if you go to a cocktail party and you're like, "I've never read or seen the Amityville Horror," you better be able to immediately make up for it by saying, "But OF COURSE I have read and seen Psycho."
Monday, October 31, 2011
Our final post as part of horror Mondays at STACKED is from Courtney Summers. Courtney's a bit of an expert on horror, having tackled real-life horrific events in Cracked Up to Be, Some Girls Are, and Fall for Anything, and, in her forthcoming June 2012 title This is Not a Test, she'll be tackling what happens when real-life horror meets the things nightmares are made of: zombies.
Friday, October 28, 2011
I've been keeping tabs on the cover images popping up for 2012 releases, and you can keep checking back for some of the trends I've spotted over the next couple of weeks. I like to watch these things because for me, covers are what makes a title stand out. Not that I require a cover to meet the story, necessarily, but it's a visual reminder of a description or a title or an author for me. A distinct cover is a great recall tool; having too many covers that feature the same themes makes a book a little more forgettable, not only in the mind but also on the shelves. It can't hold its own.
Remember last year the surge of books featuring girls floating under water? It appears this trend will float us through 2012, too.
Anne Greenwood Brown's Lies Beneath is a mermaid story, slated for release by Delacorte in June 2012. Mermaids are so not my thing but this one is set in Lake Superior, and I'm kind of fascinated by that.
Sarah Wylie's All These Lives is a story of twins and cancer, and it is also slated for release in June of next year by Farrer, Straus, and Giroux.
So glad this underwater gal can also show off the wind swept hair effect so well. The Unquiet, by Jeannine Garsee, sounds a little bit like a few of the mind-bending books that have come out this year about mental illness. This one will be published next year by Bloomsbury.
Paige Harbison's The New Girl is a mystery set in a prestigious academy, slated to be released by Harlequin in January 2012. I wonder if it involves drowning.
Of the covers above, the one that sticks out to me is Garsee's. It's not different than most of the others, but it has a crispness to it that strikes me a little more than the others. The book itself sounds like it's up my alley too, with its psychological bent in the premise.
Can you think of any other 2012 releases featuring the girl under water? Do any of these covers speak to you more than any of the others?
Thursday, October 27, 2011
That said, some of the books I discuss in these sort of posts are bad (or mediocre) books, and some are just not to my taste. I think that’s an important distinction to make, and I’ll indicate it in my individual reviews.
The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin
What it’s about: Mara Dyer wakes up in the hospital with no memory of how she got there. She eventually learns that she and two of her friends were in an old building that collapsed. Her friends died, but Mara survived without a scratch. If you thought that the rest of the book would be dedicated to Mara’s investigation into what happened in the building, you’d only be half right. After Mara is released from the hospital, Mara and her family move to a new town, so Mara starts a new school and meets a new boy named Noah Shaw. Noah is good-looking, has an English accent and ridiculous amounts of money, and has slept with almost every other girl in the school. Naturally, he and Mara begin a relationship.
Why it didn’t work for me: The execution. I feel like this could have been a compelling novel with more judicious editing. The pacing is all off, a prominent character is written out of the book partway through for what seems like pure convenience’s sake, and the book has a prologue that doesn’t fit in with the rest of the story at all. The plot jumps all over the place and certain threads are dropped and never picked up again. Despite that, the book could have succeeded as a romance, but I found Noah Shaw so repellent I kept crossing my fingers and hoping for the scene where Mara would publicly tell him off. (It never came.) Example: Noah pursues Mara, who has told him to leave her alone, into the girls’ restroom at the school and tells the other girls in there to leave. They do, of course. I have many, many more examples, but I’ll stop there.
Who might enjoy it: Readers who can overlook messy writing (mostly the plotting) and who are drawn to the type of character that Noah is. I can’t see anyone primarily enjoying the paranormal storyline, but I can see someone enjoying it for the relationship between Mara and Noah. Many girls like to read about a bad boy every now and then, but Noah takes it way past my comfort level.
The Eleventh Plague by Jeff Hirsch
What it’s about: Stephen lives in a world post-Collapse. The US fought a war against China, and the US lost, partly due to the fact that China released a terrible plague upon the Americans (hence the title). Slavers roam freely, violence is rampant, and it’s a daily fight to stay alive. Stephen, his father, and his grandfather are scavengers, trading for what they need and keeping to themselves. Then his grandfather dies and his father is in an accident. Stephen is taken in by a community that calls themselves Settler’s Landing. The people in this community are attempting to rebuild some sort of civilization, complete with school for the children and a form of government. Not everyone in Settler’s Landing is OK with Stephen coming to stay, and Stephen forms a bond with another outcast, Chinese-born Jenny. Then a prank that Stephen and Jenny play upon the residents of Settler’s Landing has unexpected consequences, and violence erupts in the previously peaceful settlement.
Why it didn’t work for me: Oh, dystopias. I know so many of you are terribly mediocre, but I can’t resist your siren call. The main problem I had with the book is that Hirsch had the whole world of horrible (and by that I mean awesome) dystopian tropes at his fingertips, but he chose to tell this particular story. While Hirsch does describe how awful the world is, the book is mostly a story about two teens’ prank gone wrong. The prank has terrible repercussions, but I never felt its magnitude, and I wanted a story on a larger scale. The prank (which is alluded to on the flap copy) also doesn’t occur until about 2/3rds of the way through the book, so there’s too much time spent on Stephen’s acclimation to Settler’s Landing. Additionally, Stephen and Jenny are fairly well-drawn, but the ancillary characters are flat and mostly interchangeable.
Who might enjoy it: There’s definitely an audience for this book. Readers who get tired of dystopias’ fixation on giant wars or major rebellions may enjoy the smaller story recounted here. It’s more about creating community and fitting in than overthrowing corrupt governments. There’s also a dearth of dystopias told from a boy’s perspective, so this fills a gap.
The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab
What it’s about: Lexi lives in Near, a small, secluded town whose inhabitants distrust strangers. Then one night, a stranger – a boy Lexi’s age – appears on the moor. His appearance coincides with the disappearance of Near’s children, and the townsfolk are quick to blame the stranger boy, who has been taken in by two old women who live near the outskirts of Near. Lexi doesn’t believe the boy is responsible, and, with his help, she sets out to determine who is actually taking the children. If not the boy, could it be the Near Witch, whom the townsfolk supposedly destroyed years ago?
Why it didn’t work for me: The plot was a bit dull. I thought it was overly predictable and moved at a rather slow pace. Schwab’s writing is gorgeous and atmospheric, but I’ve always been the type of reader who needs a strong plot to stay interested. My ideal book would have both great writing and great plotting, so The Near Witch only partially satisfied me. This is one of those books that was more not to my taste than actually bad.
Who might enjoy it: Readers who value beautiful writing and don’t mind when it’s accompanied by a slow or predictable plot. I do want to emphasize how gorgeous Schwab’s writing is, so if you’re the kind of person who digs that, you might want to give this a shot.
First two books were review copies received from the publisher. Last book checked out from my local library. All books are available now.
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Shortly after Rose's mom dies of cancer -- a battle she fought for quite a while -- Rose discovers in her mom's closet a brown paper bag labeled "Rose's Survival Kit." The bag contains a number of items that she knows have some significant meaning to her. These are items her mom lovingly put together for Rose specifically, but even though Rose knows they're meant to be comforting, she can't bring herself to delve into them yet.
For two years, Rose and Chris have been in a steady and strong relationship. But once Rose's mom dies, the relationship begins to falter. It's not because of Rose's loss. It's just a matter of how these things go. And while Rose mourns the loss of this relationship -- one that's been a steady part of her life, especially while she dealt with the weakening of her mother -- she's found something in Will, her family's hired yard work help, that has her intrigued. Will has been a constant in her life too, but one she's been willing to overlook easily. She's never thought about who Will is beyond the fact he works for her family. She's missed that he goes to her school, that he has a wealth of interests, including hockey, and that he may understand her much more than she could ever imagine.
Donna Freitas knows how to write a story. She knows how to write characters. And she knows how to deliver whole heartedly on both. The Survival Kit tackles the issue of grief and growth, treading territory so many other contemporary titles in the last few years have done, but there's something that sets this one just a little bit apart. Aside from a host of fully-fleshed and completely realistic characters who act and feel in ways that teens do, this story fully fleshes out the meaning of faith and belief without treading into spiritual or religious territory. It's uplifting in a way that many books about grief aren't.
Rose might be one of my favorite characters in a long time. She's experienced a tremendous loss in her life, and she allows herself the opportunity to mourn. But rather than give up the entirety of her life to do so, she gives up things. She continues to go to school and continues to socialize and be a part of her friendships, but she gives up listening to music. It depresses her too much. She and boyfriend Chris break up, but she doesn't swear off the idea of establishing relationships with other characters. In fact, she wants to do so. She's isolated herself from tangibles in exchange for the intangibles of human connections. It sounds so simple, but what makes this powerful in the context of the story is just how well Freitas rounds out these characters.
It could be easy to make Rose a character to feel sorry for. She's lost a lot in her life. But as readers, we feel her pain step by step because we care so much for her well being. We want Rose to move forward because she has so much to work toward. The stakes are high, even without there necessarily being huge things ahead for her. She's average, and there's something about that averageness that is so important to her. She's relatable and she's likable. She doesn't have to be a superstar or a prodigy for us to feel for her.
Part of what makes Rose so sympathetic, though, is the way she approaches everyone in the story. The way she builds them up in her mind makes her grief almost more aching; where it would be easy to make Chris to be a bad person in the midst of their breakup, instead, she continues to respect him and even love him a bit. What was between them is over, but it's not. It's a part of who she is and it's part of what has shaped her life. When Rose begins to talk with Will and learn his story, she realizes, too, how much his story is part of her story. She embraces him, even admitting to herself that she's always overlooked what was right in front of her unfairly. She's never looked down on him, but she's never sensed the opportunity for connection with him. But the thing is, she makes that connection when she most needs to, and it serves her well in understanding her own grief. I must also give Freitas huge points, too, for not falling into the boy-that-saves-the-girl trope here. Rose figures everything out for herself. Her relationship with Will is merely an extension of understanding her own self and emotions. It's not the catalyst. Admittedly, I found the romance to be a little convenient (how could it not be?), ultimately, that didn't matter. Everything else in this story worked so well that the moments of convenience were easy to overlook.
The Survival Kit is pitch perfect in pace, and it mimics Rose's processing of grief. What made this work was the survival kit Rose finds, addressed to her from her mother. The kit included a number of items, such as an iPod with pre-loaded music, a crystal heart, a box of crayons, and a paper kite, among other things. Each of these carries huge meaning, and as Rose works through the challenges in front of her, she understands the weight of the items. She realizes that the physical, tangibleness of things isn't what matters -- what matters is the meaning and the value within them. That is to say, of course, that while Rose's mother is no longer a physical being, what her mother meant to her will never be gone. What her mother gave to her in meaning was beyond the tangible. Never once did this feel forced, either; Freitas is careful in implementing the items into the story so that it never becomes meaning upon symbolic meaning. It just is.
This story has really stuck with me since finishing it. There's respect for the story and characters, matched only by the respect for the readers. Freitas's writing is very reminiscent of Dana Reinhardt's, and I couldn't help but be reminded of my reading experience with The Things a Brother Knows when I finished. Though the topic is so heavy and challenging to read, the feeling of hope that emerges at the end -- both for the characters and for the world outside the story -- is commendable. This book is its own survival kit.
Hand this one off to those who love realistic fiction, ala Sarah Dessen, Siobhan Vivian, and Dana Reinhardt. While it will appeal to a wide range of readers, I think those who enjoy a bit of a challenge with their reading will find much to dig into here. Moreover, I cannot help but also note this book has one of my favorite covers in a long time. It perfectly captures the story, and it has wide appeal to it. There's much crossover appeal on this book, as I think adults will find this as enjoyable as teens will. I could see this being a fantastic choice for a mother-daughter book discussion, and I don't mean that in a way to belittle it. It has so much to it and begs its readers to talk and connect with one another.
Advanced reader's copy received from the publisher. The Survival Kit is available now.
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Monday, October 24, 2011
We've been talking about horror on Mondays here, and this week, I thought I'd take this idea somewhere just a little bit different. Instead of talking about the traditional horror novel, I thought I'd highlight a handful of titles that are haunting for a different reason: it's unclear what's real and what's not. They're novels that tiptoe the line of real and not real. There's something slightly off about them.
It's that psychological taunting that, I think, is scarier than traditional horror. With a standard horror novel, much can be explained via some outside force; but a psychologically haunting novel forces the reader to question not only the story but to question themselves. The ultimate question becomes whether the book is about the character or if it's about the reader.
Lark by Tracey Porter is the story of Lark, a 16-year-old who'd been kidnapped from her home and left to die in a snowy forest. Her two best friends, Eve and Nyetta, find themselves haunted by her death; Eve feels somehow responsible for it, while Nyetta feels responsible for freeing Lark's soul from limbo.
This short book is one that I've thought a lot more about than I thought I would. I finished it quickly and while I got it, it didn't haunt me as much as I wished it would. Until, now months later, I've found myself wondering if my interpretation of the novel has been wrong. In reading reviews of this novel, I've found people use the words "fantasy" and "paranormal" to describe it; not once in my reading experience did I feel this. Lark, to me, was grounded in the contemporary world. While Lark speaks as a ghost and while there are elements of the fantastic in this story, so much within the book, particularly within Nyetta's drive to "free" Lark, was completely within our world. For me as a reader, this story was about Nyetta and Eve's mental struggle to cope with the loss of their friend. The stages were quite classic: both girls felt that in order to grieve properly, they needed to accept responsibility for what happened. In the end, the symbolic closure sealed this story as more real than fantastic for me.
Though the story itself didn't completely work for me (I wanted a lot more heft to it, given how much commentary there is within it about the symbolic power of women and bodies and loss), when I went back through reviews and saw how many people talked about the ghosts in the novel, it left me much more haunted. Had I read the story completely wrong? Was I the crazy one? That's when I realized this book did precisely what it needed to do: it left me questioning. The goal was less about the story itself and more about making the reader wonder about their own thought processes. If, months after finishing, I was wondering about my own interpretation, then the book had taken on a story far greater than the one it told. Lark begs for a second reading.
Tighter by Adele Griffin follows 17-year-old Jamie as she takes a summer job on a removed New England island as a full-time babysitter. When she arrives, she quickly learns about the death of a young couple, and she's hell bent on figuring out why they died. The further she goes into uncovering their stories, the more Jamie realizes she looks like the dead girl and the more she senses she can talk to the ghosts of the couple. Jamie becomes more and more entrenched in their stories and as she does, the more she becomes twisted within her own thoughts and her own understanding of the difference between reality and fantasy.
Like Lark, Griffin's story is short and twisted. The plot is tight and leaves the reader questioning right along with Jamie. Is she onto something? Is she uncovering a great ghost story? Or is Jamie herself becoming mentally unhinged at every turn of events?
Although I saw the ending coming from a mile away, this is the kind of book that will leave many haunted. This book is a revisioning of Henry James's classic The Turn of the Screw, and while I've never read the original tale, the story itself tread some familiar psychological territory. But again, what I find completely fascinating about the book is less the story and more the reactions other readers have had to it. In reading reviews of this one, it's clear that there's a divide between reading this as a straight up ghost story and reading it as a psychological thriller. Unlike Lark, though, I find it hard to buy this as a ghost story with the ending as it stands; however, Griffin is successful in executing a story that blurs the lines between fantasy and reality and gets to the readers themselves. It's much less about Jamie and much more about whoever is reading.
Wonderland by Joanna Nadin has sort of slipped under the radar this year, and it surprises me because what this novel does is precisely what a couple of other books this year do (and yes, if you click those links, that'll be a downright spoiler to the book, so consider yourself warned). An interesting trend to note, to say the least. Nadin's novel, though, does so without sacrificing the writing itself, and in fact, the writing may itself aid in building the deceiving world of the story.
Jude aches to get out of her small town and make her way to London, where she'll go to school at the prestigious Lab and make a name for herself. But she lacks a lot of willpower to do so, partially because of the loss of her mother and partially because she's so alone. Living with her dad isn't helping, either, as he's been in mourning for a long time.
Lucky for Jude, though, her best friend Stella wanders back into her life one day; Stella'd never been the most stable or reliable of friends, but her return makes Jude more happy than she could have imagined. The problem is that Stella is wild -- she does things she shouldn't. She's reckless and uninhibited, and often, she drags an unwilling Judge into scenarios in which she'd otherwise never involve herself. The truth is, Jude loves the attention that she gets when Stella's around. But can Stella take her power over Jude too far?
I called the ending of Wonderland at page 4 or 5, but that didn't stop me from enjoying how Nadin got there. The story left me questioning my thoughts much more than other variations of this story have, simply because the language wrapped me up within it. More than that, though, Nadin threw in enough twists and turns, and made it seem like my predictions were maybe too simple and straightforward. Even though the story wrapped up as I suspected it would, I didn't end up feeling disappointed. Instead, I wanted to go back to page one and start again. There were strings of other stories within Jude's that begged for more attention, and I suspect a second reading would still leave some of the questions I had unanswered (which is not a bad thing). A good story can leave some strings unanswered and have that be more than satisfactory.
We've already talked about Nova Ren Suma's fantastic young adult debut Imaginary Girls here. As much as I adored this book and thought it achieved something huge, I knew it was a winner when I came back to it and reread it. Not only did I reread this one, but I reread all 350 pages in one sitting. This time, it was a completely different and much more psychologically haunting story than the first time.
Where the first time I read the story I thought it wrapped up a little cleanly (and bought the idea that indeed, Ruby was a crazy character without much more than that), the second read left me much more tormented as a reader. Was I wrong the first time? Did Ruby indeed exist at all? Was Chloe really the one begging for help the entire time? As I read, I picked up many subtleties I didn't catch upon the first time; specifically, I found myself enraptured by the dropping of gray hairs throughout the story. These left me further questioning who or what I believed. I had to believe Chloe because she was telling the story. But the more I read, the further I had to separate myself from that idea. There were gray hairs throughout the book, and it was the deceptive and gorgeous writing that cast a sheen over me as a reader. Maybe I'd misread Chloe. Maybe I'd misread Ruby. Maybe I'd misread the entire story.
I didn't walk away with any more answers on the second read. I walked away with more questions, and they were much less about the plot and story and much more about me as a reader. How was I making my interpretations? What inside the story was something I grasped onto and pulled conclusions from? If I read this again, would I see something else entirely? Perhaps the biggest question it left me with was how many ways can we as readers see inside a story? For me, this was one of the rare novels that made me see something so many different ways and not just that, but it left me okay and maybe even satisfied with that because I had to be. Suma's novel is the definition of a psychologically thrilling story, though I'm more apt to label this novel as fantasy than the others above (magical realism, to be precise).
While I love a good horror novel and a good dark Gothic tome, for me, the best kinds of scary are those which push the boundaries of reality and fantasy. Those which straddle the definitions are the scariest because they can't easily be defined. More than that, though, these stories make the reader question their own comprehension of both and question their own sense of understanding. I live for a challenge, and the more a story can challenge me to think about how I think and interpret, the more likely it is to stick with me, whether the story itself is successful or not. True horror is walking away with more questions about myself after reading a book than answers.
Have you read anything along these lines? I'd love to find something as tormenting as any of the titles above.
Friday, October 21, 2011
Thursday, October 20, 2011
Jasmine comes from a nice life -- she's had everything she's ever wanted, and she's being pressured by her father to take advantage of this. He wants her to go to a good college and make a name for herself, but she doesn't want to go. She's adamant about striking it out on her own and building a career in music. So her father does what any loving father does, of course, and kicks her out.
She makes her way to Santa Cruz, the place she dreams of living and making a life for herself, and she soon realizes that achieving her dreams on her own isn't going to be as easy as she thinks. Sure she has the equipment and the musical know-how, but when she's pressed to talk about her experiences performing in front of a band she's trying to get a spot in, she lies. And it might be that lie which ultimately breaks her.
Amplified is Kelly's second novel, and after Harmonic Feedback, my expectations were quite high. Fortunately, this book not only delivers, but it's one that takes some of the best elements of Kelly's writing -- her knowledge of music, her well-voiced and true-to-age narrators, and a steady but pulsing pace -- and amps them up just a little more. Jasmine is a strong and stubborn main character, and she takes a road in her life that's scary and treacherous but one that I think so many teen readers will appreciate: she decides to follow her passion, rather than follow the path to college that she's been told is the only way to success. We need more books that do this.
This book stands out because of Jasmine. She has a well-written voice, but more than that, she's not a wallower. Never once does Jasmine worry about what she's going to do when she's in a city that's new to her. Despite telling a few creative lies -- some of which certainly impact her far worse than others -- she's very much the kind of girl who just takes care of things. When her car breaks down, she doesn't pity herself. She gets it fixed. When she needs to find a job, she doesn't worry too much about her pride; she does what she needs to do to make money (working in a boardwalk psychic shop probably wasn't her ideal job post-high school) and she does what she needs to to make inroads with a local band. At one point in the story, Jasmine has to talk to her father because she's found herself in an incredibly tough spot, but this kills her. She'd rather do anything that run back to her dad and ask for help, and this anguish really highlights the strength of self she has.
Kelly's writing is tight, and the pacing in this book is spot-on. The book doesn't drag, and I credit part of it to Jasmine being such a well-drawn character, but a lot of it has to do, too, with the infusion of beat in the book. Any book about music should have a beat to it, and this one does. It's a careful balance of pulsing and pushing forward, especially when Jasmine is performing and is lost entirely within her music, with quieter sounds and reflection, which often happens while she is at her job at the psychic shop. The writing about music itself doesn't weigh down the story but instead enhances it. I could hear Jasmine and C-Side throughout the story. Readers who appreciate music will appreciate the authority and authenticity with which this is written. Likewise, the writing doesn't get bogged down in trying to be too literary or embellished, which made the story shine through. I'm not a one-sitting reader, but I got through Amplified in one sitting because it was easy to do. I was lost in the story and in Jasmine.
Though this story is about taking care of one's self and pursuing one's dreams, it's also as much a story about relationships. Jasmine does everything for herself because she has to, but she's not insensitive to those around her who are giving her a leg up when she needs it. There are people looking out for her, even when the truth unravels about her past and her experiences in performance. Where some members of C-Side were ready to kick her out of the band as soon as they discovered she had no performance experience (and doing so meant she'd also lose a place to live), she had an advocate or two on her side. When she needed a way to make a little money, she had someone there to give her the position at the psychic shop. Although this is in no way a message driven book, I think there is a well-delivered message that success is a mix of having the will to follow a dream but also being humble enough to accept help when it's offered.
Amplified, I think, may be a stronger book than Harmonic Feedback, and I think it might have wider appeal. Fans of gritty, rock and roll style novels will appreciate this one. Jasmine's probably one of the more realistic teens I've read, too, and I think she'll be easy for many to connect to. This book will work well for your older and more mature middle school students (there aren't really any situations to be too worried about, but the language is what you'd expect of 18 to 20-something musicians) and high school readers. This is an easy one to give to reluctant readers, but that doesn't in any way suggest that your big readers won't love this one. They will. As I mentioned, this is a story about a girl who took a non-traditional path after high school, and I think for many high school readers, these stories are immensely important. I applaud Kelly for tackling that gray area, and without doubt, she is becoming one of my go-to authors for her authenticity.
Review copy picked up at ALA. Amplified will be available October 25.
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Review copy received from the publisher. Nursery Rhyme Comics is available now.
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
A few of my recent reads, mini-review style:
The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan: No one can deny that Rick Riordan can write. His scenes are humorous, his characters are vivid and flawed, and his research is impeccable. This book even featured the return of Percy Jackson, who finds himself at Camp Jupiter, Camp Half-Blood's Roman counterpart, strangely without his memory. However, this book just seemed a bit too slow and bloated for me--too long by about 100 pages.
Habibi by Craig Thompson: A gorgeous melding of illustration, story, history, religion, identity, guilt, repentance, and love. Two refugee slaves are separated, then find their way back together, navigating their unique relationship in a world of corruption, desperation, and poverty. Stunning illustrations and a multi-layered tale. I'm looking forward to picking up Thompson's Blankets soon.
Circle of Fire by Michelle Zink: A lush, beautifully written conclusion to the Prophecy of the Sisters trilogy. Zink has the ability to make both the assumed villains and the supposed heroes multi-layered, and her depiction of the Lia/Alice relationship is brought to a satisfying close. Zink's prose is gorgeous and her words truly evoke the novel's Gothic setting.
White Cat by Holly Black (narrated by Jesse Eisenberg): I first picked this up in print last year and couldn't get into it. Yet Jesse Eisenberg's narration truly pulled me into this original story of Cassel Sharpe, teenage con-man and the only member of his family who isn't a curseworker (persecuted and feared members of society who can alter your emotions, luck, or even form with a single touch). Yet he does suffer from the guilt of knowing that he killed his childhood best friend, Lila. He can't remember anything about the murder, but just recalls looking down at her body, at the blood. But when a white cat shows up, Cassel starts to suspect that he is part of something bigger than himself---that he is the one being conned. Eisenberg's voice is the perfect mixture of knowing, awkward, and sheepish, and Black's plot is original and inventive, with plenty of memorable characters, twists, and turns.
Monday, October 17, 2011
Continuing our horror Mondays series is a guest post from Carris Harris, author of the zombie comedy Bad Taste in Boys. She's already told us a bit about why we should read paranormal books, and she's also told us a little bit about herself, but we thought it was about time she got down and dirty and tell us what we should be reading when it comes to the world of zombies. So, if you're ready for a little horror of the undead variety, Carrie's got some ideas for you.
Bring Out Your Undead -- My Favorite Zombie Books
My apologies for the gratuitous Monty Python reference. I’ll have you know that I’m reading this entire post in a very atrocious French accent.
Anyway. Zombie books. I’ve heard from a lot of people that they don’t read them because they’re not horror fans, but the reality is that there are so many literary undead hordes these days that I honestly believe you can find a zombie book to suit any taste. It doesn’t matter whether you like silly, thought-provoking, or the kind of book that brings out your inner teenage boy (assuming that, like mine, your inner teenage boy likes anything that reads like a video game). I SHALL FIND YOU A ZOMBIE BOOK OR DIE TRYING AND THEN COME BACK AS A SHAMBLING CORPSE. WHICH WOULD BE IRONIC.
I’d probably be remiss if I didn’t mention my book, BAD TASTE IN BOYS, which is the kind of zombie book you’d like if you’re a fan of Shaun of the Dead. There’s a bit of violence, yes, but it’s mega campy. Another over-the-top silly zombie read is HOLD ME CLOSER, NECROMANCER by Lish McBride. Don’t go into this book taking things seriously. There is potato hockey in it. And, of course, zombies.
For the more thought-provoking zombie read, I have to tote out two of my all time favorites. ROT AND RUIN by Jonathan Maberry made me cry, and I’m not talking a little water in the eyes that you can pass off as a stray eyelash. I’m talking full on horking of snot. Yes, there’s some awesome zombie chills in this one, but it’s also about what makes us human. My second recommendation here is actually an adult title that I think has some crossover potential. FEED by Mira Grant did not make me cry, but at the end, I actually howled the word “NOOOOOOO!” out loud and scared the everloving daylights out of my kids. Ever wonder what the political scene would be like in the zombie wasteland? Read FEED.
If you’re looking for non-stop action, I highly recommend THE WALKING DEAD series of graphic novels by Robert Kirkman. Know how people generally say the book is better than the movie (or in this case, show)? Yeah, that. Also PATIENT ZERO by Jonathan Maberry. This is classic zombie horror. As in, it will scare the crap out of you and then scare the crap out of you again. And then, for a change, it will scare the crap out of you. People keep stealing my copy. It’s that good.
In short, there’s quite a bit more variety in the zombie genre these days. Even non-horror fans can enjoy the right title without shaking in fear, hiding under a blanket, and clutching your crème brûlée torch for comfort. Especially if you read it in an atrocious French accent.
Do you have any zombie book suggestions? We'd love to hear them!
Friday, October 14, 2011
I love a good road trip book. I'm extremely forgiving of them when it comes to plot, even, because I appreciate the story of movement, of place, and of the importance of getting out and seeing things. There's always a sense of tension built straight into a good road trip book, and I think that that is part of why I'm forgiving when it comes to a lot of plot challenges. And while I found Julie Halpern's Don't Stop Now to be one of the stronger and more enjoyable road trip books I've read in a while, I did find myself struggling a little bit with the secondary plot of the book -- the motivation for the road trip -- and I almost wish that the secondary plot hadn't happened at all. Even if it killed the motivation, the book would have been stronger as a straight forward road-driven narrative.
It's the last summer before college, and on that first night of freedom, Lil got a phone call from her friend (which is a loose term, to say the least) Penny. She doesn't answer it, but when she checks her voice mail, the only thing Penny says is "I did it." Lil's keen on the fact Penny has a crummy home life and that she's been on again and off again with this guy Gavin who she suspects might be a bit abusive. Can't know for sure, though, since she's only kind of friends with Penny. But when the police, Lil's parents, and Lil's best guy friend Josh start asking Lil more and more questions about what happened to Penny, she decides to take action. Lil believes Penny's pulled off her own kidnapping, and now Lil wants to get away too to finally come to grips with the freedom in front of her.
More importantly, though, Lil wants to know whether what she has with Josh will always be friendship or of it's something more.
The strength of Halpern's book, from the start, is her writing. It's easy and fun to read, and it's spot on realistic for teens. These characters have feelings and deep thoughts, for sure, but the fact of the matter is, they act upon impulse. Even when they finish high school, impulse is the cue for action, and Halpern captures that. Her writing is tight, and while the novel spans a lot of distance, her writing doesn't cheat that part of the story. Part of what worked for me as a reader, I think, is knowing the descriptions of road side attractions are accurate and realistic. Lil and Josh begin their road trip in southern Wisconsin at an iconic Cheese Palace, and being an expert on both southern Wisconsin and the Cheese Palace, I found everything she wrote to be not only honest and non-belittling, I found it funny. Throughout the course of the trip, the characters will constantly refer back to the start of the trip through the t-shirts they purchased at the Palace, and it not only reroots them to the trip, but it reroots them to the crux of their storyline: are they friends or are they more than friends?
While their ultimate goal is to reach Portland, Oregon and find Penny -- who they suspect to be there with a new boy -- they don't spare the road side attractions. Anyone who has done this trip knows some of the gems along the way: The House on the Rock in Spring Green, Wisconsin; Blue Earth, Minnesota, home of the Jolly Green Giant; Mitchell, South Dakota, home of the Corn Palace; Wall, South Dakota, home of Wall Drug north of the interstate and the Badlands south of it; the whole of what you need to see in Wyoming; and so forth. What I love is how these iconic road stops aren't belittled in the narrative, but the characters truly enjoy themselves. As they enjoy themselves in these places, as readers, we're forced to consider the issues bubbling around them. Do we want them to become more than friends? Do we want them to find Penny and come to an end of the story?
Although this plot was richly fleshed, I found the secondary story with the disappearance of Penny to be considerably weaker and what ultimately made the book weaker than it could have been. She is, of course, the reason Lil gives to Josh for the road trip, even if it's not necessarily what she believes in her heart (and she'll say as much later in the story). But what bothered me was that there was an opportunity to develop this plot line stronger. Penny had an abusive boyfriend, and she also seemed to have developed a mysterious relationship on a vacation months earlier that led her to meet a boy in Portland after school ended. We get what are her journal entries at the end of each chapter -- so as Lil and Josh progress on their trip, we're sent back to Penny's world. When Lil is contacted by the police and FBI about her knowledge pertaining to Penny's disappearance, she is very nonchalant about it. She's truly not interested in her friend's well-being. All of this would work fine for me as a reader, as I believed that Lil truly just wanted an excuse to get on the road with Josh, but the inclusion of the journal entries took me out of that mindset. Penny's story was interesting to me. I wanted to know more. I needed to know more. And Lil was too selfish to give it to me as a reader.
There are moments that required a considerable suspension of belief, particularly when it came to both Lil's mother and Josh's father. Neither cared a whole lot that their kids hit the road. But here's the thing: it didn't matter. I didn't find myself worrying about their parents because they didn't want me to dwell on it. This was their freedom, and they were taking it. I got enough of their family stories throughout the trip, and let me say -- I've never once found a character I've connected with when it comes to a father-daughter relationships than Lil. I was right there with her as she talked about him, and my emotions were wrapped up completely in her words and beliefs about him and the value/impact he had on her as a person. I wanted to know more, but I was also relieved not to know more. It was hers to hold on to. And that made it all the more powerful.
Though the ending is a little tidy and I'm not sure I bought the relationship's conclusion between Josh and Lil, I'm willing to forgive both because the road trip aspects were so well done. I appreciated the steady pacing of the story and the realistic time frame, as well. Both of those are essential elements in a story that involves movement.
This is the kind of book that will have wide appeal, and teens who loved stories like Morgan Matson's Amy and Roger's Epic Detour will want to pick this one up. The story and tone are quirky in the same manner as Natalie Standiford's books, so pass this off to fans of her books.
Advanced copy received from the publisher. Don't Stop Now is available now.
Thursday, October 13, 2011
This post will look familiar, but I promise it's the last one on this topic for a long time. I've got together another list of books still unnominated for the Cybils in YA Fiction category, many of which haven't made my previous iterations of the list. Anyone can nominated -- you don't need any accolades to do so -- but you can only nominate one book in each category. All you have to do is go here, put in the required information and you're done. You only have until Saturday to nominate your title in this category and in any of the other ones.
- If I Tell by Janet Gurtler
- Mercy Lily by Lisa Albert
- David by Mary Hoffman
- Every You, Every Me by David Levithan
- Going Underground by Sarah Vaught
- A Plague Year by Edward Bloor
- You Have Seven Messages by Stewart Lewis
- All the Earth, Thrown to the Sky by Joe Lansdale
- Queen of Hearts by Martha Brooks
- Chain Reaction by Simone Elkeles
- Bestest Ramadan Ever by Medeia Sharif
- Paradise by Jill Alexander
- Popular by Alissa Grosso
- Spinning Out by David Stahler
- Unlocked by Ryan G Van Cleave
- Where I Belong by Gwendolyn Heasley
- Will Work for Prom Dress by Aimee Ferris
- Choker by Elizabeth Woods
- Love, Inc. by Yvonne Collins
- Blank Confession by Pete Hautman
Here's the part where this post gets even more eerie. I'm also over at Yalsa's The Hub blog talking about authors with October debut novels. Head over there and leave a comment. I'd appreciate it!
A few of my recent reads in 140 characters or less.
Cinder by Marissa Meyer
When the Sea is Rising Red by Cat Hellisen
The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin
The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Next week is Teen Read Week, an annual celebration put together by the American Library Association which aims to celebrate teens reading. This year's theme is "Picture This," and focuses on the intersection of art and image with writing. To go along with that theme, here's an idea for a display -- books that feature photography or characters who are photographers themselves. All images and descriptions are courtesy of WorldCat, and you are welcome to borrow this list and use it. If you have other books that fit the theme, drop a comment. For list purposes, I've limited myself to fiction titles.
Flash Burnout by L.K. Madigan: Telephoto lens. Zoom. In a shutter release millisecond, Blake's world turns upside down. The nameless woman with the snake tattoo is not just another assignment. 'That's my mom!' gasps Marissa. Saturated self-portrait: Blake, nice guy, class clown, always trying to get a laugh, not sure where to focus. Contrast. Shannon, Blake's GF. Total. Babe. Marissa, just a friend and fellow photographer. Shannon loves him; Marissa needs him. How is he supposed to frame them both in one shot?
All You Get is Me by Yvonne Prinz: Almost sixteen-year-old city-transplant Aurora must adapt to life on an organic farm as she navigates an eventful summer when she falls in love, discovers that her mother has left for good, and watches her father take a bold stand in defense of the rights of undocumented Mexican farm workers. Aurora takes photographs throughout the story, developing them in a broken down shed.
Fall For Anything by Courtney Summers: As she searches for clues that would explain the suicide of her successful photographer father, Eddie Reeves meets the strangely compelling Culler Evans who seems to know a great deal about her father and could hold the key to the mystery surrounding his death.
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs: After a family tragedy, Jacob feels compelled to explore an abandoned orphanage on an island off the coast of Wales, discovering disturbing facts about the children who were kept there. This book makes use of photographs to tell the story.
The Tension of Opposites by Kristina McBride: Sixteen-year-old Tessa, a budding photographer, has been living in suspended animation since her best friend was kidnapped at the age of fourteen, and when she suddenly returns, both of them, along with the people they love, must deal with the emotional aftermath of the terrible ordeal.
Exposed by Kimberly Marcus: High school senior Liz, a gifted photographer, can no longer see things clearly after her best friend accuses Liz's older brother of a terrible crime.
A Little Friendly Advice by Siobhan Vivian: When Ruby's divorced father shows up unexpectedly on her sixteenth birthday, the week that follows is full of confusing surprises, including discovering that her best friend has been keeping secrets from her, her mother has not been truthful about the past, and life is often complicated. Ruby gets a Polaroid camera for her birthday, which plays into the plot.
Snap by Carol Snow: When fifteen-year-old Madison's parents, who are having problems, bring her to a seedy beachside town, she relies on some quirky new friends for help figuring out how her camera is taking pictures of people who are not there, and who later suffer tragedies.
Sources of Light by Margaret McMullan: Fourteen-year-old Samantha and her mother move to Jackson, Mississippi, in 1962 after her father is killed in Vietnam, and during the year they spend there Sam encounters both love and hate as she learns about photography from a new friend of her mother's and witnesses the prejudice and violence of the segregationists of the South.
Through Her Eyes by Jennifer Archer: Sixteen-year-old photographer Tansy is used to moving every time her mother starts writing a new book, but in the small Texas town where her grandfather grew up, she is lured into the world of a troubled young man whose death sixty years earlier is shrouded in mystery.
Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier: Seventeen-year-old Dimple, whose family is from India, discovers that she is not Indian enough for the Indians and not American enough for the Americans, as she sees her hypnotically beautiful, manipulative best friend taking possession of both her heritage and the boy she likes.
Rain is Not My Indian Name by Cynthia Leitich Smith: Tired of staying in seclusion since the death of her best friend, a fourteen-year-old Native American girl takes on a photographic assignment with her local newspaper to cover events at the Native American summer youth camp.
Can you think of any others? Drop a comment and I'll add it!