June 30, 2012

June in Review

You might have noticed that I posted quite a bit this month.  There were two reasons for that.

1) I tried participating in more social activities.  I never did anything like MotherReader's 48 Hour Book Challenge in college because I felt like I couldn't promise much time or effort.  But now I can and I'm trying to find what sort of activities work for me.  I am going to participate in The Book Rat's Austen in August, so look forward to that.

2) I posted a review almost every day.   This was to help me catch up on books I needed or really wanted to review.  This will slow down throughout July and August, but I hope to keep posting reviews for at least two books per week.

What did you think about the deluge of content?

June 29, 2012

Review: Jake and Lily

Book Cover By Jerry Spinelli
Available now from Balzer + Bray (HarperCollins)
Review copy

Jerry Spinelli is one of my favorite children's authors.  MANIAC MAGEE, THE LIBRARY CARD, and STARGIRL were three of my absolute favorite books.  JAKE AND LILY might not be an instant classic, but it is a wonderful story for boys and girls.

Jake and Lily are fraternal twins who sleepwalk to the train station on their birthday.  It's one of many ways they're connected, including a sense for where the other is and what they're doing.  But as they mature, they can't stay glued to each other.  Jake starts hanging out with a group of neighborhood boys, led by Lily's archnemesis Bump Stubbins.  Lily's left to her own devices, but she doesn't know who she is without her brother.

Spinelli manages to write about two very different subjects in a very natural way.  There's a plotline about bullying and one about developing your own life.  I liked that the bullying was something insidious - not deliberate maliciousness, but going along with the crowd because it's fun.  It takes Jake awhile to realize into the consequences of his behavior, but he does eventually get a clue.  (And the kid his friends bully, Ernie, is priceless.)  Lily's storyline takes a little while longer to get going, but the force of her emotions carries her half of the book.  She's sometimes sad and often angry.  Lily's a girl of action, but she just doesn't know what to do when her brother pulls away from her.

Growing older is never easy, and JAKE AND LILY is a terrific tale of two kids getting it wrong and getting it right in turns.  The dual point of view is a terrific device that helps point out the difficulties Jake and Lily have in assessing their own attitude.  This title will especially appeal to kids having trouble with their siblings or with a bully.

June 28, 2012

Review: Underworld

Book Cover Book Two of the Abandon series
By Meg Cabot
Available now from Point (Scholastic)
Review copy

I adore Meg Cabot.  Many of her books, both YA and adult, have a special place on my shelf.  But when I finished ABANDON, I was disappointed.  It's interpretation of the Persephone myth was dodgy and the plot kind of weak.

UNDERWORLD opens where ABANDON left off, with Pierce now willingly in the underworld having escaped her Fury-possessed grandmother with John.  Pierce almost immediately starts waxing Persephone.  Now, I'll give Cabot props for tackling a tough myth.  But instead of facing the undertone of rape in the original myth she sweeps it under the rug.  UNDERWORLD does get slightly more points for its handling of the original by acknowledging that Pierce doesn't know much more than the Disneyfied version despite how much she waxes on about it.  Both John and Mr. Smith, the cemetery sexton on Isla Huesos, correct her impressions of the myth throughout the story.

Honestly, I only pushed through the beginning of UNDERWORLD because of how much I like Cabot.  Usually I can read one of her books in about half an hour.  It's impossible to know how long I took on the first eighty or so pages because I kept putting the book down from boredom.  The plot finally kicks into gear when Pierce and John go back to the Isla Huesos to save her cousin Alex since she received a premonition of him trapped and terrified.  At the same time, there's the dark secret of Jack's past to uncover.

While UNDERWORLD had an actual plot that kept me entertained, it felt a bit pointless in the end.  (And, mild spoilers, everyone is very blase that a guy who is your average jerk transitions to straight-up murdering someone.)  Jack's past: not that dark.  To be very general, he tried to do a good thing and bad things happened, but nothing worse than if he hadn't acted.  Alex acts completely differently than he did in ABANDON, turning into an obstinate twit just to cause conflict.  Kayla, the best character in the series, shows up far too briefly.

I suppose UNDERWORLD is supposed to be carried by John and Pierce's romance.  But I'm just not feeling it.  Pierce reacts to everything before thinking.  She's tempestuous, but seems more overwhelmed by her confusion than passion.  John, meanwhile, just doesn't do it for me like most of Cabot's heroes.  He's overprotective in a bad way and uncommunicative.  Pierce might have less emotional whiplash if he'd just talk to her instead of making abrupt revelations that affect her entire life.

UNDERWORLD was a significant improvement over ABANDON.  But this series just ain't working for me.

June 27, 2012

"Waiting On" Wednesday: Anticipating 2013 already?!

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a meme hosted by Jill of Breaking the Spine.

Today I was going through my blogroll and such when I came upon Faye's "Waiting On" Wednesday.  The book sounded so cool I wanted to feature it too.  What makes it so appealing?  It's high fantasy, one of many genres I've been craving lately, and it has a non-Western setting.  I'm hoping for something like Cindy Pon's SILVER PHOENIX.  So what is this book?

It's PROPHECY by Ellen Oh, available January 2, 2013 from HarperTeen.  The following blurb is taken from Faye's post:

The greatest warrior in all of the Seven Kingdoms . . . is a girl with yellow eyes.
Kira’s the only female in the king’s army, and the prince’s bodyguard. She’s a demon slayer and an outcast, hated by nearly everyone in her home city of Hansong. And, she’s their only hope . . .
Murdered kings and discovered traitors point to a demon invasion, sending Kira on the run with the young prince. He may be the savior predicted in the Dragon King Prophecy, but the missing treasure of myth may be the true key. With only the guidance of the cryptic prophecy, Kira must battle demon soldiers, evil shaman, and the Demon Lord himself to find what was once lost and raise a prince into a king.
Intrigue and mystery, ancient lore and action-packed fantasy come together in this heart-stopping first book in a trilogy. Followed by Warrior, and King!

Review: Traitor's Son

Book Cover Book Two of the Raven Duet
By Hilari Bell
Available now from Houghton Mifflin
Review copy
Read my review of TRICKSTER'S GIRL and my interview of Hilari Bell

TRAITOR'S SON is more satisfying than its predecessor TRICKSTER'S GIRL.  A great deal of that has to do with the ending.  TRICKSTER'S GIRL ended abruptly in order to set up the change of narrator in TRAITOR'S SON.  But the second book is the end of the duology so both the character arc and the quest arc come to a close.  (Sadly, we learn nothing about Kelsa aside from the fact that she gets arrested.)

One problem I had with the first book is directly addressed.  I thought it was strange that Kelsa's attraction to Raven was so emphasized when clearly no romance would be happening.  Jase is also attracted to Raven, who now takes a female form, and confronts her about trying to seduce him in order to convince him to help heal the ley lines.  Raven admits to her ploy.

The Raven Duet is about Raven's quest to save humanity.  Ley lines in all worlds are becoming polluted due to humans and some powerful beings want to let the human world implode.  Kelsa and now Jase's quest is to use human means to heal a single ley line and prove that humans can fix their mistakes.  Raven's enemies are not above using deadly force to prevent their success.

Jase is three-sixteenths Native American which is not enough to inherit tribal property.  His dad is a prominent lawyer who sued the tribes over the property laws and caused a rift in the Alaskan Native community.  It's made Jase something of an outcast whose only comfort is his vintage car.  When Raven comes along, drawn by the medicine bag Kelsa passed to him, he thinks she's nuts.  But soon he is helping her and trying to reconcile his relationship to his father with his relationship to his grandfather.

This time the magic takes a little more effort.  Jase needs a lesson after the first try fails.  He's inherited the ability to Spirit Walk, which puts him at extra risk from Raven's enemies.  They can easily find and hurt him in his sleep - and he can't touch them.

I think you can read TRAITOR'S SON without reading TRICKSTER'S GIRL first.  If you like tales of quests, then this novel will probably entertain you.

June 26, 2012

Review: Smart Girls Get What They Want

Book Cover By Sarah Strohmeyer
Available now from Balzer + Bray (HarperCollins)
Review copy

I chose to review Sarah Strohmeyer's young adult debut because of its irresistible title: SMART GIRLS GET WHAT THEY WANT.  Combined with the excellent blurb, I was sold.  (I'm not big on the cover though.  No smart girl would wear those unflattering frames.)

Gigi, Bea, and Neerja become friends in elementary school.  It's a friendship that's still holding steady in high school.  It's good for them, since they support each other's endeavors and are in no way frenemies.  But it's bad because they've never had to risk themselves by going outside of their little circle.  Then they read Neerja's older sister's yearbook and realize that none of their idol's classmates knew who she was.  Gigi, Bea, and Neerja want more.  They want social lives and to leave a mark on their high school.

I love that the girls don't have to compromise who they are to get what they want.  Strohmeyer's novel is a tale of stretching yourself and doing things that you want to do even though they scare you.  It's a tale of getting to know new people and being surprised to how much more there is to them beneath the surface.  (Or realizing that the surface is nice but shallow.)  It is not a tale of dumbing yourself down to get a guy or ditching your old friends in pursuit of new ones.

Despite their closeness, the girls don't want exactly the same things.  Neerja wants to act in the school play and finally make a move on Justin, the guy she's been crushing on forever.  Bea wants to join the endangered women's ski team even though she had to give the sport up after her brother had a serious accident.  Gigi wants to run for student rep to change a policy that's threatening her Ivy League future and to prevent budget cuts that would cripple the school's Art programs and reduce the librarian to part time.  But even though their dreams are different, they're willing to help each other reach their goals.

SMART GIRLS GET WHAT THEY WANT is funny and clever with romance that is predictable but well-done.  (And, wonderfully, the Indian girl gets just as much or more romance as the blonde white girl.)  Strohmeyer's adult fans will enjoy this novel and it should bring her a legion of teen fans as well.  I absolutely love this book and hope you will too.  It's everything I could want in contemporary YA.  SMART GIRLS GET WHAT THEY WANT, and they want books written about them that are this good.

June 25, 2012

Movie Monday: Miss Nobody

Book Cover My dad pays for satellite television and has most of the movie channels.  That means that when I visit him we watch a lot of movies together.  The best is finding weird little movies you never would've seen if you weren't bored and channel surfing.  (See: Drones.)  A semi-recent find was the black comedy Miss Nobody starring Leslie Bibb (Popular).

In case my past Movie Mondays haven't given it away yet, I love black comedy.

Leslie Bibb plays Sarah Jane McKinney, a paper-pushing secretary with a terrible haircut.  When she accidentally kills her boss (Brandon Routh), she finds herself zooming up the corporate ladder.  But if she wants to stay on top she's going to have to kill again.  And again.

Despite the premise, Miss Nobody is a frothy confection of a film.  Rarely has murder seemed so light-hearted.  There are a few sequences that veer into satire, but those bits remain quick and shallow.  While I say this, I must admit that there is a delightfully nasty twist at the end. 

Many parts of Miss Nobody are predictable.  Of course there's a cop boarding in Sarah Jane's house.  Of course they fall in love.  Of course he's assigned the case.  Of course someone knows what Sarah Jane did.  Of course the person tormenting her is pretty obvious.  But Miss Nobody doesn't really intend to surprise you.  It just wants you to laugh.  And I did.

The casting is terrific.  I'm always happy to see Missi Pyle (Josie and the Pussycats) and a little bit of Vivica A. Fox (Ugly Betty) never goes amiss.  Bibb may be a blonde bombshell, but she plays mousy and browbeaten pretty well.  It's entertaining to see her body language change as she grows more confident through romance and murder.

I don't think I'm going to go out a buy a copy of Miss Nobody, but I enjoyed finding and watching it.

June 24, 2012

Biannual Blogathon Wrap-Up Post

Biannual Blogathon Bash

I am wrapping up the blogathon now.  I hit both of my numeric goals: at least 10 hours blogging and 2 mini challenges. 

As I wrote in updates to my kick off post, I completed eight mini challenges.  I didn't keep my time exactly, but I spent about twelve and a half hours blogging.  As for fixing up old posts . . . not so much.  I did do some clean-up on my sidebar.

I hope everybody participating had fun!

First Book

First Book bridges publishers and communities in order to provide children with their first books.  Recently, they distributed 1.2 million books in ten days.  If you're an educator or program admin, you may be eligible for free books.  You can get involved through donations, volunteering, and fundraising.  Or you could shop at these partners to support First Book.

As for all the authors reading this, here's the special ways you can help.

First Book has a four-star rating from Charity Navigator.

June 23, 2012

Review: The Letter Q

THE LETTER Q: Queer Writers' Notes to Their Younger Selves Edited by Sarah Moon (no website found)
Contributing editor James Lecesne
Available now from Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic)
Review copy

When I picked up THE LETTER Q: Queer Writers' Notes to Their Younger Selves, I was super excited to have another book to add to my QUILTBAG list.  I love sharing books that can change someone's life and THE LETTER Q looked very promising.  The list of authors on the front (beautifully designed by Chip Kidd) included big names like Armistead Maupin, Gregory Maguire, and Jacqueline Woodson.

What lay inside lived up to the promise of that off-pink, off-blue cover.  Each writer's letter is personal, but contains universal advice.  Not just about love and perseverance - but telling their younger self to quit smoking  and to not hang out in parks at night and to trust their instincts.  THE LETTER Q can get repetitive if you read it all at once, but it's just right when you space the letters out and see just how each of these authors made it out of their childhood.  And as for the advice, my favorite bit came from Jewelle Gomez:
Maybe you should think about writing vampire stories, they might come back into fashion someday (133, ARC).
I liked that THE LETTER Q showcased a wide range of voices, allowing for a fuller picture of LGBQ life.  Sadly, the trans* voice is lost in this collection.  But there are black, Hispanic, and Asian voices, struggling with two kinds of marginalization.  There are older voices, including people who weren't able to come out until middle age.  There are younger voices that grew up in a more tolerant time.  There are children's book authors, young adult authors, and literary fiction authors.  There are playwrights, comic artists, and memoir writers.

Panel of hilarious advice from Michael DiMotta's comic
The comics throughout THE LETTER Q cut the repetition of reading letter after letter.
This panel, by Michael DiMotta, was one of my favorites.
One of THE LETTER Q's greatest strengths is the way it serves as an introductory text.  I've talked to many people about Alison Bechdel's FUN HOME and how it led them to seek out the books she discusses in the text.  THE LETTER Q contains writing from dozens of authors (full list below).  Many who read THE LETTER Q will be inspired to pick up other works by those authors.  It's a bit of a who's who of queer lit.

I highly recommend reading this Advocate article about THE LETTER Q.  This anthology of letters will appeal to teens struggling with their identity as well as people of any age with an interest in the experiences of queer America.  It's a powerful, moving work.  Even better, half of the royalties will be donated to the Trevor Project, a resource for QUILTBAG youth contemplating suicide.

Amy BloomMichael Cunningham
Julie Anne PetersJacqueline Woodson
Eileen MylesDavid Levithan
Jasika NicoleRakesh Satyal
Doug WrightMelanie Braverman
Brian SelznickStacey D'Erasmo
Adam HaslettTerrence McNally
Erik OrrantiaJennifer Camper
Martin MoranArmistead Maupin
Arthur LevineMalinda Lo
Maurice VellekoopLarry Duplechan
Ali LiebegottPaul Rudnick
Linda VillarosaJ. D. McClatchy
Anne BogartEric Orner
Lucy Jane BledsoeTony Valenzuela
Gregory MaguireChristopher Rice
Jewelle GomezBill Clegg
Erika MoenSarah Moon
LaShonda Katrice Barnett Howard Cruse
Michael DiMottaDiane DiMassa
Brent HartingerSusan Stinson
Marc WolfLucy Knisley
Nick BurdJames Lecesne
Paula GilovichColman Domingo
Richard McCannMarion Dane Bauer
Lucy ThurberPaige Braddock
David LeavittDavid Ebershoff
Benoit Denizet-LewisRay Daniels
Michael NavaCarole DeSanti
A. Carter SickelsBill Wright
Janice MaimanMayra Lazara Dole
Randall KenanBruce Coville

June 22, 2012

Biannual Blogathon Bash Kick Off Post

Biannual Blogathon Bash

This year I have decided to participate in the Biannual Blogathon Bash.  It's not to late to sign up if you want to participate!  The idea is to blog as much as possible between today and 10 PM EST on June 25th.

I'm going to set my goals pretty low: 10 hours blogging and 2 mini challenges.  My main goal is to clean up some of my old entries.  Tag them correctly, make sure the pictures display, fixing any broken links.

I'll keep ya'll posted with updates!

Update #1:

So far I've visited many other participants and completed two challenges.

Creating a Fav Icon - I already had one, but I tried making a simpler, brighter one from scratch.  I'm going to stick with my old favicon!
How to Write a Better Tweet - I want to do all of the Twitter challenges because I know I've basically ignored my twitter for years.  I should actually use it.

I attempted to make a photo collage (it will be useful for a guest post I'm doing in August), but can't get picmonkey.com to load, likely due to my bandwidth limit.

Update #2:

I have done a few more challenges and started reading a new book for review.

Dofollow vs Nofollow - I had no clue what nofollow links were.  Turns out you can add code to affiliate links to keep spiders from following them.
Where to Get Blogger Support - This challenge seemed more geared to money-making blogs, but I'm trying out some of the suggestions.
Tools to Make Twitter Work for Your Blog - I signed up for Tweriod, which should tell me the best time for me to tweet.  Of course, it would be best for me to tweet at all.

That's all the mini challenges I'm doing today, but I have four that I want to do tomorrow and/or Sunday.  (One I already did a bit of work on by cleaning up the tag cloud in my sidebar.)

Update #3:

I posted a review of THE LETTER Q edited by Sarah Moon and James Lecesne.  In this review I used tips from How to Write a Book Review, Blogger SEO Basics, and HTML Basics, completing all three mini challenges.

Review: Teen Boat!

Book Cover By Dave Roman
and John Green (Not that John Green, YA fans)
Available now from Clarion Books (Houghton Mifflin)
Review copy

Collaborators Dave Roman and John Green originally published the TEEN BOAT! mini-comic through their own Cryptic Press.  You can still visit the old websites associated with that version of the comic.  TEEN BOAT! won an Ignatz Award and now it is available in a full color version with extra comics and other bonus material.

The art of TEEN BOAT! is clean with easy-to-distinguish and consistent character designs.  The girls aren't overly sexified either.  They look like teen girls and their designs are stylized the same as the guys.  The art doesn't stand out from the crowd, but it is definitely not hideous.  And believe me, you'd be surprised how many comics and graphic novels get published with awful art.

TEEN BOAT! first came onto my radar when I read the AV Club review praising its light parody of Saturday morning cartoons.  After reading it myself, I cannot come up with a better description than that.  TEEN BOAT! is an updated, self-aware Saturday morning cartoon that invites the reader to laugh at the ridiculous premise and plots and enjoy the story anyway.

The protagonist of TEEN BOAT! is actually named TEEN BOAT!  He's a high school student who can turn into a boat at will, but must turn into a boat when wet.  He gets in and out of trouble, dates an Italian gondola, and runs for class president.  Like most teen guys, he's pretty self-absorbed.  One of the running gags is how he doesn't notice that his best friend is both into him and has shape-changing abilities of her own.

Older teens will probably find TEEN BOAT! too short and silly.  But hey, I'm an adult and thought it was cute.  TEEN BOAT! is probably best for tweens, especially ones that still enjoy the cheesiness of Saturday morning cartoons.  There is some underage drinking and gambling, but it the protagonist does not partake and the behavior is punished.

June 21, 2012

Review: Soulbound

Book Cover Book One of the Legacy of Tril
By Heather Brewer
Available now from Dial (Penguin)
Review copy
Read my review of ELEVENTH GRADE BURNS

My ARC and Heather Brewer's site say that SOULBOUND will be available in July 2012.  Amazon says June 19, 2012.  I'm not sure who to trust, but my guess is you can go ahead and buy yourself a copy.

I normally don't quote blurbs in my reviews, but I was about to start explaining the world of Tril and realized the blurb did it quite neatly in a single sentence.  "Tril is a world where Barrons and Healers are Bound to each other:  Barrons fight and Healers cure their Barrons' wounds in the ongoing war with the evil Graplar King."  Kaya is a Healer and the daughter of two Barrons.  But Barrons are not supposed to have relationships with each other.  Kaya must attend the Shadow Academy and be the model Healer or her parents will be killed.  But Kaya doesn't want to remain defenseless on the sidelines.  She wants to fight.

Kaya and her friends should be safe within the walls of Shadow Academy.  Somehow the Graplars, quick, vicious beasts, are breaching the defenses.  If the perimeter's weakness can't be found, everyone living in the academy might perish.  I loved that there is a self-contained plot in SOULBOUND in addition to the questions to be explored later in the Legend of Tril.   Nothing annoys me more than the trend of first books that are all rising action.  Kudos to Brewer for avoiding that trap.

I think Kaya is an easy heroine to identify with, especially for teenagers.  She questions authority and works to pursue her dreams at all costs.  I enjoyed Brewer's Chronicles of Vladimir Tod, but the real reason I wanted to read SOULBOUND was the fierce woman on the cover.  Kaya lives up to the cover's promise.

Other major characters include Maddox, Darius, and Trayton.  Maddox is assigned to be Kaya's guard and soon becomes her best friend.  They're two troublemakers who are always there for each other.  Darius is an Unskilled who teaches swordplay to the Barrons.  He saves Kaya from a Graplar, then acts like he hates her.  Yet he's the only person she can trust to teach her to fight.  And Trayton is the Barron bound to Kaya.  He's the rule-abiding sort, but Kaya's influence pushes him towards breaking tradition.  I liked both guys, which makes me sad that there's probably going to be a full-blown love triangle in book two, SOULBROKEN.

If you're like me, you'll want to read SOULBROKEN the instant you finish SOULBOUND.  (Cliffhangers, man.  Cliffhangers.)  Not even a cliffhanger would make me want to continue if the first book was bad, however.  SOULBOUND is a terrific beginning to what should be an epic series.  I like the characters and the world is intriguing.  I'm ready to see Kaya shake up the establishment and to find out just what evil King Darrek's deal is.  Fantasy fans will eagerly devour SOULBOUND.

June 20, 2012

Review: Violins of Autumn

Book Cover By Amy McAuley
Available now from Walker Books (Bloomsbury)
Review copy

A young spy is captured in Nazi-occupied France and interrogated about her mission.  No, this isn't CODE NAME VERITY.  It's VIOLINS OF AUTUMN, and the book may begin with a flash forward to Adele's interrogation, but her story begins a little over a month before in May 1944.

The Allies are poised to invade France at any moment.  Meanwhile, their spies must arm and train the French Resistance in preparation for D-Day.  Plain, unassuming Betty, now known as Adele Blanchard, is a courier.  Trustworthy and poker-faced, fluent in French and German, it is her job to pass secret messages throughout France.  It isn't long before things go wrong for her and fellow spy Denise, leaving them stranded in Paris with downed pilot Robbie.

I enjoyed VIOLINS OF AUTUMN despite not being a historical fiction fan.  (There is more than enough history woven throughout to thrill any World War II buff.)  A great deal of my goodwill is for Adele.  She's an admirable character.  She thinks fast on her feet and is extremely practical.  She's a young woman who knows that her decisions could result in her death or the deaths of others.  She begins the book armed with a poker-face, quick lies, and her training, but by the end she must use everything in her arsenal to survive.

There is, of course, romance.  Robbie, a sixteen-year-old, lied about his age to join the Air Force and is too soft for the situation he finds himself in.  Pierre, a handsome member of the French Resistance, thinks Adele is nothing more than a flighty girl.  I appreciated that Amy McAuley gave her heroine two love interests but didn't force a love triangle.  Adele is too busy fighting an underground war to worry about which boy she likes.

The missions were quite exciting.  Germans lurk around any corner, ready for any slip, from accidentally speaking in English to ordering black coffee.  (Due to rationing of milk and sugar, black coffee was assumed.)  Adele must complete her missions with little more than a bike and a notebook.

I also liked the friendship between Adele and radio operator Denise.  Denise is a little more impulsive than Adele, but she's a skilled spy in her own right and a good friend.  I've recently read a lot of books centered around female friendships and I really can't get enough of them.  Friendships last a lifetime, especially when your friend is the only person you can trust not to be a double agent.

Espionage, friendship, and romance all played out to the background of WWII.  If that doesn't appeal to you, then VIOLINS OF AUTUMN probably isn't your thing.  But given how many people love CODE NAME VERITY, I think there are quite a few people looking for just that.

June 19, 2012

Soundalike Titles

It seems like every once in awhile you stumble upon two books that have the same title, or nearly the same title.  Usually they're easy to tell apart because they're different genres, or aimed at different age groups, or something.  But I've noticed a lot of similar YA titles recently.

Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover

I am currently reading BETWEEN YOU & ME by Marisa Calin, which comes out in August from Bloomsbury Children's.  Earlier this month I reviewed THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN YOU AND ME by Madeleine George.  Both of the books contain QUILTBAG content and are well-suited by their title.  But wait!  There's more.  You'll never guess what Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus's new book, released this month, is titled.  That's right.  BETWEEN YOU AND ME.

But this isn't just a problem for contemporaries.

Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover

Last fall, DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE by Laini Taylor made a big splash.  (If you haven't read it yet, there will be a free download of the audiobook in August.)  This month I reviewed SHADOW AND BONE by Leigh Bardugo, which was released to a lot of hype. In April Knopf Books for Young Readers published Robin Wasserman's THE BOOK OF BLOOD AND SHADOW.

Any day now I expect to see a notice for BETWEEN SMOKE AND SHADOW, the first in an urban fantasy trilogy about a lesbian trying to achieve her dream of stardom and escape the man who wants to control her hypnotic voice.  (Honestly, I would read that.)

Have you noticed any startlingly similar titles lately?

Review: This Is Not a Test

Book Cover By Courtney Summers
Available now from St. Martin's Griffin
Review copy

Courtney Summers has earned awards and critical acclaim, but her books haven't quite made it to the bestseller lists.  She's the kind of writer who gets full artistic and technical marks, but I've never fallen in love with her work.  It's easy to love her writing, but her main characters like to keep the world at arm's distance, including the reader.  However, I fell in love with THIS IS NOT A TEST and I think it is the book that could make Summers a bestseller.

What makes THIS IS NOT A TEST so different?  Zombies.

(Don't even pretend you don't like zombies.)

The greatest strength of THIS IS NOT A TEST is the characterization.  Sloane, the narrator, and five other teenagers are holed up in their high school during the zombie apocalypse.  It took the group one week and two deaths to make it from the beginning of the apocalypse to the school.  Those two deaths were Grace and Trace's parents.  They blame Cary Chen,  the leader of the group and strongest survivor.  Rhys Moreno is sticking by Cary.  Harrison, the freshman no one knows, isn't much good for anything but crying.  The older kids treat him like a pawn.  But Sloane remains apart from the in-fighting.  Sloane Price, our heroine, was rather inconveniently interrupted by the zombie apocalypse, you see.  She planned to commit suicide.

Sloane is ready to clock out.  Ironically, it makes her an almost perfect survivor (aside from that pesky death wish).  She takes the crazy things happening inside and doesn't freak out when things go wrong.  And things go wrong, indeed.  Six people who don't trust each other trapped in one building?

THIS IS NOT A TEST is a harrowing, yet fast read.  I couldn't put it down.  I think it took me an hour, maybe an hour and a half total, because I could not wait to know what happened next.  I wanted Sloane and the others to somehow find a way to overcome.  This is not a story where the humans are indistinguishable from the zombies.  The teens have a better nature and they often appeal to it.  (Not that their baser natures don't get in some hits.)  There are reasons to like and dislike all six, but I personally didn't want any of them to die.  (Note to soft-hearted readers: this is a zombie book.)

I couldn't not love THIS IS NOT A TEST.  It's the perfect blend of literary and genre fiction.  One moment the characters are running for their lives; the next they're talking about their feelings.  It's a meditation on guilt and responsibility and truth and being horny.  If you like books with intense, creepy atmosphere and a slightly crazy, suicidal narrator then this is the book for you.

But oh, I think I hate Summers a little for the ending.  That's what happens when you give someone your heart.

June 18, 2012

Movie Monday: St. Trinian's

Book Cover St. Trinian's (2007) is an update of the old Belles of St. Trinian's films based on the cartoons of Ronald Searle.  Searle started drawing St. Trinian's girls after meeting a friend's sister and wondering what sort of school would produce her. The girls of St. Trinian's are the worst sort of troublemakers: the smart, inventive, motivated ones.

When Annabelle Fritton (Talulah Riley) is dropped off at St. Trinian's, she doesn't fit in.  Her aunt (Rupert Everett) might be the headmaster, but Annabelle is too uptight and law abiding to immediately bond with the girls.  But just as she begins to find a place for herself, the girls discover the new Minister of Education (Colin Firth) wants to shut the school down.  The only thing to do is cheat to win University Quiz and pull off an art heist.

Promotional still
This British cult comedy is absolutely hilarious.  I saw it with my dad and we were both cracking up.  I do recommend buying the DVD because the deleted scenes are pretty funny.  I see why some of them aren't in the final cut, but others I would've kept in the film.  I can honestly say that St. Trinian's is the only movie I've seen that made me laugh at someone kicking a dog.

The cast is essential to selling the black comedy.  Head Girl Kelly Jones was Gemma Arterton's (Quantum of Solace) breakout role.  Juno Temple is a rising indie star.  Jodie Whittaker (Attack the Block) plays an utterly incompetent school secretary.  Rupert Everett is unrecognizable as both Camilla and Carnaby Fritton.  (St. Trinian's does its part to keep the British drag tradition alive.)  Lena Headley (Game of Thrones, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles) is also unrecognizable as a mild-mannered teacher until she shows her St. Trinian's mettle during the climax.

Colin Firth, usually the dashing hero, does quite well as the hapless villain.  Plus, his presence allows for a number of Pride & Prejudice jokes.  (Three of the actresses have also appeared in P&P adaptations.)  But his star power never outshines the large female cast, which is only fitting.  Whenever they're onscreen, the girls of St. Trinian's steal the show.

If you're in the mood for a comedy, I recommend picking up a copy of St. Trinian's.  Now if only I could find the sequel for less than $25.

Another thing to recommend it?  The terrific pop soundtrack, which includes the theme "Defenders of Anarchy" by Girls Aloud.

June 17, 2012

Read Alliance

Read Alliance (formerly Read Excellence and Discovery Foundation) works to close the literacy gap.  Read Alliance recruits and trains high-school students to tutor elementary students in New York's lowest income communities.  To quote their site, "To this end, not only does Read Alliance shrink the achievement gap by providing economically disadvantaged, at-risk students with basic reading skills, but we also have provided more than 8,500 teens with the opportunity to develop critical college, career, and life skills through formal training, continuous support and meaningful paid tutoring jobs. Our vision is to prepare two at-risk populations for continued academic and life achievement."

Find out how you can support Read Alliance here.  Read Alliance has a four-star rating from Charity Navigator.

June 16, 2012

Review: Keep Holding On

Book Cover By Susane Colasanti
Available now from Viking (Penguin)
Review copy

The core of KEEP HOLDING ON on is solid.  Noelle is being bullied because she eats and wears the wrong things because she's poor.  She needs an adult to get involved or to find a way to stand up herself to stop the bullies.  Reading about the bullying is pretty brutal and you can tell why Noelle is reluctant to trust people.

Meanwhile, the only thing she really enjoys is making out with Matt and hanging with her best friend Sherae.  But Matt keeps her secret and Sherae has her own boy problems.  (I feel like Sherae's issue, which is serious, gets glossed over in favor of Noelle's issues. KEEP HOLDING ON is a very short book that could've been much bigger to cover its ambitions.)

The central romance isn't really there.  Noelle starts the book crushing on Julian, and he's clearly into her, but she thinks she isn't good enough for him.  That's basically it for their interaction until Noelle is ready to give Julian a chance.  The romance is a way to keep track of Noelle's character growth rather than a plot in its own right.

But my biggest problem with the book is Noelle herself.  "I qualify for free lunch, but there's no way I'd subject myself to that kind of humiliation[,]" she says (4, ARC).  But people make fun of her anyway, for eating things like a lettuce sandwich or a mayo and mustard sandwich that clearly indicate she has nothing else to bring.  "I try to hide my sad sandwich under the table.  That just makes them laugh harder (5)."  If she's already humiliated by her lunches, then the free lunch isn't a big deal.

But it's one of the repeated complaints she makes about and to her mother.  "Do you realize I have to make mayonnaise and mustard sandwiches for lunch?  Do you have any idea how humiliating that is? (159)"  No, she doesn't have to eat that for lunch.  Her mother doesn't buy lunch stuff because she gets free lunch.  Not to mention the federal free lunch program includes breakfast.  Noelle could be eating two good meals a day.  And the stuff she complains about at home - spaghetti with prepackaged garlic bread, McDonald's, hot dogs and frozen fries - are the same things many people without much money eat.  Yes, it's low in fruits and vegetables, but it's what's cheap and easy to put on the table after working all day.  Poor people tend to be bigger because the food they have access to has poor nutrition.

Perhaps this really annoyed me because I attended a school far less affluent than Noelle's.  For many of my friends, the free breakfast and lunch was their food for the day.  If they got hungry at night, they'd have to do something like heat up a can of tomato sauce.  But Noelle has actual meals in front of her and acts like its a huge imposition to eat prepackaged garlic bread.

I could maybe ignore this, but Noelle also annoys me because she acts hypocritically.  Noelle's other big complaint is that no one ever steps in to stop the bullying.  She's been isolated from her peers and understands that that is one of the bullies' most powerful weapons.  Yet, Noelle repeatedly sees her friend Ali bullied and not only doesn't step in, she rebuffs Ali's gestures of further friendship to avoid being tainted by association.

I don't expect a high school character to be perfect, especially not one who has had her self-esteem beaten down.  But Noelle's constant complaints, when she was manufacturing one of her biggest problems, were kind of hard to take.  I was happy that things got better for her, but I was also happy the book was over so that I could get out of her head.  Noelle might not grate on someone else the way she did me.  And, as I said at the beginning, the central message of KEEP HOLDING ON is solid.  I think teens struggling with being bullied will connect with the story.

June 15, 2012

Review: My Life in Black and White

Book Cover By Natasha Friend
Available now from Viking (Penguin)
Review copy

MY LIFE IN BLACK & WHITE ended up on the bottom of my June pile because neither the title nor the cover caught my eye.  Then I opened the book, read the blurb, and fell in love with the premise.  Lexi has always judged herself and been judged based on her beauty.  Then her face goes through a windshield.  Multiple facial reconstructive surgeries later, Lexi doesn't know who she is or who her friends are.

Lexi's journey is a powerful one.  I think I would feel that way even if I wasn't a fan of character-driven books.  She's clueless at the beginning, and often self-centered, but never annoying.  And she has good qualities from the beginning.  She has a strong sense of loyalty to her friends, defending them to her family when they call them shallow and back-stabbing.  At first it seems like her family was right all along.  After all, Lexi wouldn't have even been in that car if her best friend and boyfriend hadn't betrayed her.  It's fascinating to see her go from despair to holding her head high to not worrying about if people are looking.

But MY LIFE IN BLACK & WHITE's greatest strength is the complexity of the characters.  Despite the title, this is a book that lives in shades of grey.  No one is all good or all bad.  Characters might make mistakes, act petty, or otherwise misbehave, but they often own up to their behavior or do something totally unrelated that's valiant.  (Be warned that there are some scenes of sexual assault - not rape - and one perpetrator gets away with it.)  Sometimes it's just Lexi's perception changing.  I loved the moment when she finally realizes that her older sister Ruthie is super cool - something the reader could tell from the beginning.

The romance between Theo and Lexi is well done.  It builds slowly, through interaction and shared interests.  Many books would just redeem Ryan (the ex) and have him and Lexi get back together.  Instead, Natasha Friend both gives Ryan more depth and creates a second love interest who fits better with the more introspective Lexi.

If you're looking for a moving, intelligent contemporary YA, look no further than MY LIFE IN BLACK & WHITE.  It's a keeper.

June 14, 2012

Review: Tokyo Heist

Book Cover By Diana Renn
Available now from Viking (Penguin)
Review copy

TOKYO HEIST, available today, is Diana Renn's first novel.  It's a mystery that takes protagonist Violet Rossi from the streets of Seattle to the ryokan of Kyoto.  At first, I was very, very worried that I would hate TOKYO HEIST.  The press release claims, "[I]t's the Di Vinci Code for the teen generation with an exotic Asian twist."  That description made me cringe.  Violet doesn't make the best first impression either.  This is going to make me sound so old, but her bad work ethic annoyed me.

But the Asian part of TOKYO HEIST is more than an exotic background.  The book begins shortly after a set of Van Gogh sketches are stolen from the Yamadas, who are employing Violet's father to paint a mural in their main office in Tokyo, Japan.  Once Violet and her father go to Japan, almost all of the other characters are Japanese.  Violet's fellow lady sleuth is Reika, a friend who is half-Japanese, half-American, and all happy to have someone she can speak her first language with.  Even before the acknowledgements at the end of the novel, it is clear that Renn did her research.  She pays attention to cultural detail.

As for Violet, she never realizes that her comic book store boss was normal rather than overbearing.  (Seriously, being asked to stock the store and not spend your time doodling or talking with a friend?  Totally reasonable.  Her former boss even tells her about a comic contest she can enter.)  Fortunately, that's a very minor character quibble and most people aren't going to care about it like me.  Plus, she proves her mettle in other ways.  She's dedicated to solving the mystery and protecting her father.  She keeps working on her own comic, Kimono Girl, (including revising!) and helps the Yamadas catalog their art collection.

Kimono Girl often proves helpful to the investigation.  As Violet creates a plot loosely based on real-world events, she makes connections she wouldn't have noticed consciously.  I am a fan of stories-within-stories, so I liked following along with the fantastical action of Kimono Girl as well as the more realistic TOKYO HEIST.

The book does really get moving once the action moves to Japan.  You see, the sketches were stolen, but the painting they were practice for is still missing.  It should be somewhere in the Yamadas' possession, but they haven't found it.  And a yakuza boss wants the painting - or else.  The FBI does what they can to help, but the Yamadas prefer not to involve the police and undercover investigations are illegal in Japan.

The Japan section is also where Violet's love interest drops out of view.  Edge is a hipster and filmmaker wannabe who barely shows up.  I don't think TOKYO HEIST would've suffered by cutting the obligatory love interest.  TOKYO HEIST a mystery, yakuza, and a cool (female) best friend.  Who needs a boy?

I thought TOKYO HEIST was fun.  It's a good summer read, especially if you have a long plane ride ahead of you.  (Just don't start thinking everyone around you is in on an international art heist.)  I'm interested in reading whatever Renn does next, because she shows promise.

June 13, 2012

Review: The Golden Lily

Book Cover Book Two of the Bloodlines series
By Richelle Mead
Available now from Razorbill (Penguin)
Review copy

I received BLOODLINES to review, but couldn't review it since I hadn't finished the Vampire Academy series yet.  I don't know about you, but I dislike reading series out of order.  But now I am all caught up and ready to review THE GOLDEN LILY!

If you're a fan of Richelle Mead, then you know what to expect.  There's humor, romance, and plenty of action.  THE GOLDEN LILY may be pretty thick, but it's a fast read.  Mead's world is an intricate one and she sometimes addresses heavy topics, but she always keeps things moving along.

Sydney, an Alchemist, is adjusting to living with a group of Moroi and dhampirs.  The Alchemists are a group of religious humans who clean up after the vampires and protect humanity.  But she's not comfortable adjusting, because it means questioning the truths she grew up with.  She has even more questions about the Alchemist's ways when she discovers a branch group of vampire hunters.

She's also been introduced to the guy of her dreams.  He's sensible, loves cars, and enjoys the pursuit of knowledge.  But Sydney can't help but feel there's a spark missing.  While Sydney may be involved in a love triangle (as much as she would deny it), I love that Mead isn't afraid of complicated geometry.  I'd explain who is in love with who, but you'd be lost unless you're reading the books.  It's a bit of a soap opera, but it feels more realistic that a neat triangle.  (It's also hilarious since everyone thinks Sydney, Jill, Adrian, Eddie, and Angeline are related.)  I'm usually annoyed by love triangles where one of the people is obviously going to lose out, so I'm happy that Mead shows Adrian moving on from Rose and falling in love again.  It's time for him to have an epic romance.

I like that it's hard to define who is good and who is bad.  Sydney seems mature, but she still has a ways to go when it comes to believing in herself and her abilities.  Part of that is deciding who to trust on her own.  Part of it is facing up to her unhealthy eating habits.  In THE GOLDEN LILY, Adrian finally calls Sydney out about what she's doing to herself.  I thought Mead handled the difficult topic well.  I also liked that Sydney decided to take self-defense classes.  It's a very sensible move, but one few characters take, which is - of course - very Sydney.

If you like supernatural drama and hormonal teens fighting for their lives, you'll enjoy the Bloodlines series.  I recommend starting from VAMPIRE ACADEMY, but there's probably enough summary that you could follow along with THE GOLDEN LILY even if you haven't read the previous novels.

Mead will be signing THE GOLDEN LILY in Houston on June 19th.  I hope to make it to that signing, so maybe I'll see you there!

June 12, 2012

Review: For Darkness Shows the Stars

Book Cover By Diana Peterfreund
Available now from Balzer + Bray (HarperCollins)
Review copy

FOR DARKNESS SHOWS THE STARS came onto my radar when I read Angie's brilliant review of it.  At TLA I was touring the HarperCollins Children's Books booths and said something extremely eloquent like, "Oh, this one!  The PERSUASION update!  I read a great review of it."  The very nice woman telling me about the books responded in the best way possible.  "Let me get you a copy."  (Publishing people rock.  I probably don't need to tell you that, but it's true.)  Angie's glowing review was the correct response to FOR DARKNESS SHOWS THE STARS.  I'm not sure my review will be as persuasive or as lovely as hers, but one can hope.

I adore Jane Austen and PERSUASION is one of her best novels.  It was her last completed novel and shows the progress she'd made as a writer since NORTHANGER ABBEY.  It has an elegance and maturity her other novels lack.  Plus, Anne Elliot's transformation is breathtaking.  PERSUASION is as much a novel about Anne rediscovering her vitality as it is her relationship with Captain Wentworth. 

Diana Peterfreund takes the essentials from PERSUASION and makes them her own.  I'm surprised by how many plot points she was able to use, considering how different the post-apocalyptic FOR DARKNESS SHOWS THE STARS is from its inspiration.  Most importantly, she understands what made the relationship of Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth a great romance.  You pierce my soul

Elliot North and Malakai Wentworth are lovers who part on bad terms, only to be reunited four years later.  Wentworth behaves badly, but I still loved him because Elliot's love imbues every line of text.  She knows everything that's wonderful about him and can see it shining through his cold facade.  Her love hurts.  Her duty hurts.  But she accepts the choices she made and moves on, because there are more important things to worry about.

Elliot is a Luddite, the second daughter of Baron North and the one who really runs the North's farm.  Her father and older sister are more interested in keeping up appearances than working.  Elliot knows that she is responsible for keeping the Reduced clothed, fed, and safe.  The North's financial woes and her friendship with her tenants keep Elliot's mind open to the future and new possibilities.

Kai is a second-generation Post.  Unlike the Reduced, he is as intelligent and capable as a Luddite.  Tired of being treated like a second-class citizen he strikes out on his own - and Elliot does not go with him.  Now he has returned, handsome, successful, and rich.  But he's not the boy he was when he left.

I'd tell you more about the Luddites, Reduced, and Posts, but part of the pleasure of FOR DARKNESS SHOWS THE STARS is figuring out how the world works.  With the rise in popularity of the dystopia, so many future worlds feel like quick sketches designed to shock.  The world Peterfreund creates is detailed, coherent, and complex.  Luddite society may be oppressive, but it has its moments of beauty.  And 'oppressive' is a key word.  Peterfreund's tale is about social justice as much as it is romance.  It's a powerful and intriguing blend, resulting in a book that makes you think as well as feel.

Without question, FOR DARKNESS SHOWS THE STARS is one of the best books of the year.  It delivers everything it promises.  There are complicated characters, a touch of mystery, beautiful descriptions, betrayals and redemption . . . I can barely resist picking it up and reading it again immediately.  FOR DARKNESS SHOWS THE STARS is the kind of book that leaves you in a daze afterwards, still lost in the story even though you've stopped turning pages.

June 11, 2012

Movie Monday: Colin Farrell Triple Feature

Colin Farrell is one of my favorite actors.  He's got charisma and he never really slouches through his roles.  He's been in plenty of bad movies, but he tends to make them better through his performance.  So here's a little bit about three Colin Farrell movies I've seen recently.

Book Cover Ondine is the first movie written and directed by Neil Jordan since The Crying Game.  Set in present-day Ireland, Farrell plays Syracuse, a fisherman and former alcoholic who loves his sickly daughter Annie.  Annie, however, lives with her mother and her mother's boyfriend (current alcoholics) since town joke "Circus" couldn't get custody.  One day he finds a woman (Alicja Bachleda) caught in his net -- a woman Annie is convinced is a selkie.

Ondine is a lovely, mesmerizing movie.  The fairytale atmosphere of the first half of the movie is seductive.  And yes, I did say first half.  Ondine pulls off one of my favorite tricks: the mid-movie genre switch.  It's organic, rather than abrupt, and the second half's brutality makes the ending that much sweeter. A beautiful movie, in terms of story, cinematography, and song.

Ondine screenshot via http://marinah2oblue.tumblr.com
Book Cover London Boulevard is a mess.  The performances are great.  It's stylish and the soundtrack is perfect.  It's about a gangster trying to go straight after his release from prison, and the lengths he'll go through to stay out of the life when a mob boss tries to court his talents.  He just wants to be left alone to romance Keira Knightley (playing a reclusive actress whose name I can't remember).

I should love this film, but it's a mess.  Plot threads are picked up and dropped, some to be picked up again and others forgotten forever.  Even worse, it's often boring.  London Boulevard should be pulpy goodness, but it's often tedious.

But I can't tell you just to not watch London Boulevard.  That's all because of David Thewlis, who you might know as Professor Lupin.  Here he plays a washed-up actor and steals every scene he's in.  It's one of the best performances I've seen in years.  It is a crime that Thewlis's brilliant work is wasted on such a lame movie.  If you want to see Farrell as a criminal, stick to In Bruges.

London Boulevard screenshot via http://otumblr.tumblr.com
Book Cover Last, but not least, we come to Fright Night.  I have yet to see the original, so I cannot compare the two.  But I thought Fright Night was fun.  It's not scary, but there are some cool effects and plenty of humor.  I like my horror with a good dose of humor. 

David Tennant as a Las Vegas stage magician/vampire hunter and Christopher Mintz-Plasse as a geek-turned-vamp both stand out.  Anton Yelchin, as usual, is adorable without much presence.  He's lucky the movie surrounded him with likeable actors.

If you don't like horror at all you should probably avoid Fright Night, but otherwise it's good for at least a rental.

Fright Night gif via http://suzimi.tumblr.com (You're welcome.)

June 10, 2012

Seventh Annual 48 Hour Book Challenge Finish Line

For the first time I participated in MotherReader's 48 Hour Book Challenge.  (If you follow my blog in any capacity and have had access to the internet in the past couple of days, you probably already know that.)  I started at 10:45 AM Friday and kept track of the time I spent reading, blogging, and socializing until 10:45 AM this morning.

There may be discrepancies in numbers between this post and previous updates.  I am going to trust my math today over my math done during the challenge. I redid all of my math based on my records rather than my updated start post.  The differences are negligible.  The biggest difference is in number of pages read rather than time which is likely due to a transcription error.

Forty-eight hours worth of books

I read:
AMPED by Daniel H. Wilson (119 pages, 35 minutes)
LOSERS IN SPACE by John Barnes (425 pages, 180 minutes)
EARTHSEED by Pamela Sargent (253 pages, 77 minutes)
GUILTY by Norah McClintock (219 pages, 53 minutes)
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN YOU AND ME by Madeleine George (259 pages, 82 minutes)
THE CRANES DANCE by Meg Howrey (373 pages, 182 minutes)
CAPTURE THE FLAG by Kate Messner (231 pages, 54 minutes) - review will be posted July 1
INVINCIBLE by Sherrilyn Kenyon (420 pages, 97 minutes)
INFAMOUS by Sherrilyn Kenyon (468 pages, 119 minutes) - review will be posted on TGTBTU
STEALING KEVIN'S HEART by M. Scott Carter (235 pages, 71 minutes)
THE FLAME OF OLYMPUS by Kate O'Hearn (385 pages, 85 minutes)
PEOPLE WHO EAT DARKNESS by Richard Lloyd Parry (267 pages, 185 minutes)
and listened to part of "Ten Carats of Lead" by Stewart Sterling; read by Alan Sklar (20 minutes)

I took three social networking breaks of 45 minutes, 34 minutes, and 34 minutes, well under the allowed one hour of socializing per five hours reading.

According to my notes I spent 348 minutes writing reviews and updating my summary.  I did not keep track of how long I wrote Tumblr posts, but as all 32 updates were super short, I'll just tack on 5 minutes for that.

Total books read: 11 (AMPED and PEOPLE WHO EAT DARKNESS both equal 1/2 book)
Total pages read: 3,636
Total reviews written: 11 (PEOPLE WHO EAT DARKNESS review written after 48 hours)

Total time reading: 20 hours and 40 minutes
Total time socializing: 1 hour and 52 minutes
Total time blogging: 5 hours and 53 minutes
Total time: 28 hours and 25 minutes

I pledged a quarter per hour read.  I am going to round up to 29 hours for my donation, meaning I am donating $7.25 to Book People Unite.  I invite all of my readers to match my donation.  $7.25 from one person isn't much money, but $7.25 from a thousand is.

Final thoughts:

Reading a variety of books worked well.  I finished two middle grade, seven young adult, and three adult novels.  Ten were fiction; one was nonfiction.  Three were science fiction, two were mysteries, three were contemporary, three were fantasy, and one was true crime.  The audiobook short story was pulp fiction.

If I do this again, I should plan out my meals.  I lost time going out for two dinners and one lunch.  It I had food ready to be heated.

I think my start time was fine.  Maybe if I slept a long time the night before I could stay up longer.  I am not good at functioning on less than eight hours of sleep, but I'll never hit 36 hours if I spend 16 hours sleeping.

48HBC was indeed a challenge and I hope that I can participate again next year.  Good luck to all participants still reading!

Review: People Who Eat Darkness: The True Story of a Young Woman Who Vanished From the Streets of Tokyo--And the Evil That Swallowed Her Up

Book Cover By Richard Lloyd Parry
Available now from FSG Originals (Macmillan)
Review copy

I infrequently read nonfiction.  This is due less to a lack of interest in the form than an overriding interest in fiction.  But I thought it would be a nice change of pace during my marathon of reading for the 48 Hour Book Challenge.  In the end, I finished a little over half of the book before my deadline.

So what sparked my interest in PEOPLE WHO EAT DARKNESS, the true crime account of the disappearance of British Lucie Blackman in Tokyo during the summer of 2000?  The back blurb promised cultural and psychological insight on the level of Truman Capote's IN COLD BLOOD.  It touched on one of my academic interests, East Asian culture, and one of my favorite books.

The comparison to IN COLD BLOOD on the back does PEOPLE WHO EAT DARKNESS no favors.  Richard Lloyd Parry's lengthy and detailed account of the Lucie case lacks the transgressive power of Capote's masterpiece.  Capote offered no pretense of objectivity, instead showing great feeling for a man who committed a brutal multiple murder.  Parry's book is drier and attempts for an objective tone, but there is never a sense that he sees shades of grey in Joji Obara.  There is no strange, compelling beauty.  There is only a sad, friendless, bizarre man who committed at least nine and possibly hundreds of rapes over the course of thirty years, resulting in at least two deaths.

The transgressive, enigmatic figure in PEOPLE WHO EAT DARKNESS is Lucie's father, Tim.  He skillfully used the media to create enough interest in her case to force the Japanese police to treat her disappearance seriously, but took a payment from her killer to sign a document casting doubt on evidence from the police.

Parry does do a good job of creating a complex portrait of Japan.  He cogently explains the water trade, the jobs perceived as forms of sex work, and the history of the Zainichi, Japanese of Korean descent.  They're difficult subjects to address in a chapter or less, but Parry manages to do it in a way that should express them accurately to an unfamiliar audience.  The economics of the yen versus Western forms of money during the long time period covered by PEOPLE WHO EAT DARKNESS are mentioned but less fleshed out.  Interested readers can seek out more detail in R. Taggart Murphy's seminal work THE WEIGHT OF THE YEN.  (Although it should be noted that Murphy's work is preoccupied with Japan-U.S. relations rather than Japan-UK.)

For all the lurid nature of Obara's crimes, PEOPLE WHO EAT DARKNESS is not a lurid book.  I appreciated the respect shown for the women Obara violated.  But with only a few brief statements from a minority of survivors and no personal interview with Obara, there's a certain lack of drama.    The book veers closest to tedium when discussing the investigation and criminal proceedings.  Their are two strains of drama that enliven the proceedings.

Grief, guilt, and blame tear the Blackman family apart in the wake of Lucie's death.  The ill feelings between her divorced parents escalate into a war over the narrative of her life and her legacy.  Tim administers the Lucie Blackman Trust, a non-profit selling items like kits to test drinks for drugs and offering services to families whose loved ones went missing abroad.  Jane resents his use of their daughter's name.

The second gripping narrative is the creation of a system of racism and misogyny that allowed a rapist to freely commit his crimes for three decades.  He had been accused of rape as early as 1997 and a suspicious character in a woman's death in 1992, but never investigated.  But while Parry is critical of the police's methods, he never questions reported crime rates.  It strikes me as odd that Parry questions so much in PEOPLE WHO EAT DARKNESS but never discusses the possibility of unreported crimes when throwing out statistics about Japan's safety.  His credulity is especially impressive when discussing a man who describes raping hundreds of women in his private papers, of whom less than ten have ever made an accusation.

PEOPLE WHO EAT DARKNESS is an intriguing work, a thorough investigation of a crime that can offer no answer to its questions.  There are tedious stretches, but it's a compelling story.

Vote for Lady Godiva!

You've probably heard of GODIVA chocolates.  You've probably even heard of the legend they take their name from - Lady Godiva riding through the streets naked to protest taxes levied by her husband.  GODIVA celebrates their namesake with the Lady GODIVA Program, which you're less likely to be familiar with.  (It's certainly new to me.)
Every two years a woman is chosen as the Lady GODIVA Honoree.  But every season a Local Lady GODIVAs are spotlighted.  Right now, there are nine semi-finalists divided into three regional groups of three.  You can vote once a day through June 28, 2012 for one woman in each region.  The three finalists will receive a thousand dollars each.  One Annual Local Lady GODIVA will receive ten thousand.

You can view the nine semi-finalists here.  There's still plenty of time to check out their causes and vote to show your support.

One nominee, Jennifer Frances of Tampa, FL, is the founder of Bess the Book Bus.  Using the money from her 401K, she has distributed more than 350,000 books to the children who need them.  The program is in its fourth year of national service and now partners with Transitions Optical and VSP Vision Care to provide eye exams and glasses to those children as well as books.  On their 2012 Success in Sight Tour they hope to give away more than 100,000 books in 44 states.  You can also visit Bess the Book Bus on Facebook and Twitter.  You can donate here.

Want to help Jennifer out but don't have the money?  Then vote for her.

(Please feel free to vote for one of the other women as well.  All nine semi-finalists deserve your support.)

June 9, 2012

Review: The Flame of Olympus

Book Cover Book One of the Pegasus Trilogy
By Kate O'Hearn
Available now from Aladdin (Simon & Schuster)
Review copy

Percy Jackson fans will be happy to learn that there's a new set of Olympians in town.  Originally published in the UK, Kate O'Hearn's Pegasus trilogy is coming to the US.  Released just last month was the first book, THE FLAME OF OLYMPUS.

Written in the third point of view, the narration flips back and forth between Paelen, a thief god, and Emily, a young New Yorker.  Paelen attempted to steal Pegasus' bridle during a battle between the Olympians and Nirads and ended up zapped to present time.  Emily found Pegasus injured on her roof and a group of men in black found Paelen with the bridle.  But both Pegasus and the bridle are needed to save Olympus.

No adventure is complete if the ragtag band of heroes isn't likeable.  Emily and her classmate Joel are resourceful children willing to work hard to protect their friends.  Joel may need to learn to control his temper, but Emily is already skilled at doing the right thing even when its hard.  Paelen could take a few lessons from her.  He begins the story a coward, but begins to change as he figures out what truly gets you respect.  On the thief scale of one to Eugenides, he's certainly no Eugenides, but he grows on you.  All considered, it's easy to root for their victory over the Nirads and cruel secret agent goons.

THE FLAME OF OLYMPUS might be inappropriate for some younger readers due to the number of deaths, at least one of which is fairly gruesome, and brief scenes of torture.  It's nothing I didn't read at that age, but I try to note these things for those with sensitive children.

Young mythology fans will enjoy THE FLAME OF OLYMPUS and eagerly wait for the rest of the series to be released stateside.  And it does not fall into my series pet peeve.  THE FLAME OF OLYMPUS tells a complete story, although there are threads left dangling to be addressed in the next book.

Review: Stealing Kevin's Heart

Book Cover By M. Scott Carter
Available now from The Roadrunner Press
Review copy

I decided to through another small press book into my 48 Hour Book Challenge pile. The RoadRunner Press's Director of Sales and Marketing sold me on the book at the second day of the Texas Library Association Convention, but had run out of copies.  Luckily, I was able to go back early the next to pick up a copy of STEALING KEVIN'S HEART.

Political reporter M. Scott Carter's debut young adult novel is the story of Alex Anderson, who saw his best friend Kevin Rubenstein die in a drunk driving accident.  Feeling guilty and adrift, Alex falls into a suicidal depression.  His parents decide to send him to a counseling camp, where he meets Rachel, a Texas girl escaping her ex and recovering from heart surgery.

STEALING KEVIN'S HEART is definitely an issue novel.  Issues addressed range from depression to bullying to rape to organ donation.  It's a lot to pack into a novel that also has a prominent romance.  It's tough for an experienced author to give so many weighty issues their due in a single book, and STEALING KEVIN'S HEART does show a lack of polish.  Many problems are solved quickly, often with a single enlightening speech.

There are moments of powerful emotion.  The flashback to Kev's death and the aftermath choked me up.  The scene where Danny first beats Rachel is genuinely shocking.  But Alex's story often feels like an excuse for after school set pieces than a meaty exploration of his psyche.  The narration between scenes is clumsy, with frequent unsubtle foreshadowing like ". . . so everything was just about perfect.  Of course, it couldn't stay that way (201)."

I am willing to be lenient with STEALING KEVIN'S HEART since it is a debut novel.  And, honestly, I admire ambition and STEALING KEVIN'S HEART has that in spades.  If you're interested in organ donation or enjoy books that tackle tough topics, go ahead and give STEALING KEVIN'S HEART a chance.  It wasn't visceral enough for me, but I think Carter could write a story to pierce my hard heart.

Review: Invincible

Book Cover Book Two of the Chronicles of Nick
By Sherrilyn Kenyon
Available now from St. Martins Griffin

I needed to read INVINCIBLE before I read INFAMOUS, the third book and newest release in the Chronicles of Nick.  I wasn't going to review it, but decided I didn't want to start the second day of the 48 Hour Book Challenge with a lack of reviews.  I checked out the first book, INFINITY, from the library a long time ago.  But they never  got the second book, so I bought it on my own.

The Chronicles of Nick is a young adult offshoot from Sherrilyn Kenyon's popular Dark-Hunter romance series.  I've tried reading a few of the Dark-Hunter books since reading INFINITY in order to fill in the backstory.  I enjoyed the romance, but was left very confused.  In the Dark-Hunter I read, Nick Gaultier is this angry guy who goes about messing up people's plans.  In the Chronicles of Nick, he's a sweet boy being hunted by a variety of nasties.

The monster of the week is Devus, the new coach at Nick's high school.  If Nick doesn't steal objects from his classmates, he'll end up dead.  But Nick has even bigger fish to fry.  He's still learning to use his powers, and Death himself has shown up as a teacher.  Caleb and Nekoda keep showing up as well, and Nick can't decide whether to trust them or not.  Meanwhile an older version of Nick is running around apparently mucking things up.  (His bad judgment gives him away as the Dark-Hunter guy, I guess.)

There are a lot of characters and motives to keep track of, but I just went with the flow while reading INVINCIBLE.  It's a real popcorn book - vague prophecies, a hint of romance, a lot of action.  A book this high in entertainment value is a great way to start a long day of reading.

Review: The Cranes Dance

By Meg Howrey
Available now from Vintage  (Random House)
Review copy

The book cover does not want to work with me right now and I'm too tired to deal with it tonight.  You can see it here.

I am on fire, guys.  Books that I love keep falling into my lap.  I haven't had a reading streak this good in ages.  I feel like I need to make a sacrifice to the book gods before I offend them with my good fortune.

Kate Crane is a soloist in a ballet company in New York City.  Her younger sister is a principal in that same company.  (For those who know nothing about ballet, principal is better than soloist.)  But her younger sister is now at home recovering from a nervous breakdown.  And Kate just threw out her neck.

I wanted to read THE CRANES DANCE because I love reading about ballet, but I was afraid it was going to be one of those books that earns its literary cred by being unrelentingly sad.  I was definitely satisfied on the ballet side.  Meg Howrey writes about the sport/the art with confidence and knowledge.  The ballets are also summarized perfectly.  Kate mocks the plots and the motions, but she does it with love and familiarity.  As for sadness, there were many sad parts.  There were times I was afraid that Kate would give into her worst self-destructive impulses.

But THE CRANES DANCE balances everything out by being funny.  Kate's voice, always conversational, is full of dry, black humor.  I would quote my favorite part, but it's inappropriate for this blog.  Many characters make it clear that she's often distant and intimidating, and it's interesting to separate the things she actually does and says from her inner monologue.  I will quote what is possibly my second favorite set of lines.  It's an old sentiment well said.
"Just tell me what you want," said Klaus.  "I don't know what you want."
Ah, we had come to this.  Since the dawn of time has man said thus to woman.
- p. 191, ARC
Sisterly rivalry isn't a new topic either, but Howrey addresses the theme with emotional authenticity.  Kate both wants the best for her sister and hates that she never got a chance to shine on her own.  And shining is extremely important to people who spend their lives onstage.

THE CRANES DANCE is a powerful tale of ambition and rivalry told with sarcasm and verve.  Meg Howrey can exit the stage to a standing ovation.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...