September 30, 2012

Banned Books Week is Here!

Banned Books Week lasts from today (September 30) to October 6th.  It is a celebration of not just reading books that have been challenged, but of seeking out knowledge, using critical thinking to make decisions for yourself, and freedom of information and expression.  It's about being LOUD about your right to read. 

This year is the 50th Anniversary of Banned Books Week.  You can find out more information, including activities and resources, at the ALA website and  The Macmillan Children's Publishing Group is going to celebrate their seven most-challenged titles on their blog.  I've read five of the seven, and they're all great novels.

To celebrate, Google Play has 25 challenged novels on sale for 99 cents each.  (Prices may be matched in other online bookstores.)  YA titles include JULIE OF THE WOLVES by Jean Craighead George, THE TERRORIST by Caroline B. Cooney, and THE DROWNING OF STEPHAN JONES by Bette Greene.

I'm very, very busy this week, but I'll try to post something special for the week every day.

September 29, 2012

Review: Seconds Away

Seconds Away Book Two of the Mickey Bolitar novels
By Harlan Coben
Available now from Putnam (Penguin)
Review copy
Read my review of SHELTER

Sometimes you gotta have faith in people.  I really enjoyed SHELTER until the end revealed that the bad guy was a ninety-year-old Nazi.  Turns out SECONDS AWAY starts with Mickey frustrated because that makes zero sense.  But he doesn't have much time to ponder the bad-guy-who-doesn't-age before his friend Rachel gets shot in the head.  (It's just a flesh wound!)

Mickey, Spoon, and Ema band back together in order to discover who tried to kill their friend.  They're all dealing with fallout from the last book.  Mickey's being watched by the cops, who dislike that he always seems to be at the center of trouble.  Spoon is grounded for approximately forever.  Okay, so Ema's not in trouble, but as she and Mickey get closer Mickey gets more suspicious of her secrets.

I do think Harlan Coben has a talent for writing teenagers.  Mickey's often as worried about making the basketball team as he is about solving the various mysteries in his life.  The teens continue to be constantly connected through their phones.  And while Mickey, Spoon, and Ema have the makings of good investigators, their meddling often interferes with what the professionals are trying to do.  They lack the experience and knowledge of the law needed to get criminals put behind bars.  I disliked the stereotype of the belligerent police chief in SHELTER, but in SECONDS AWAY he eventually gets some nuance.

I did get the nagging sense during SECONDS AWAY that I should be reading Coben's adult Myron Bolitar mysteries to fill in a bit more of the backstory.  But looking up blurbs for the Myron novels shows that the most recent, LIVE WIRE, introduced Mickey and his family and thus there probably isn't much information to be found there.

SECONDS AWAY is a terrific follow-up to SHELTER, though it doesn't further the series arc much.  It is a decent thriller in and of itself.  SECONDS AWAY is a good choice for those who want a book with a lot of action.

September 28, 2012

Review: Audition & Subtraction

Book Cover By Amy Fellner Dominy
Available now from Walker (Bloomsbury)
Review copy

Confession time!  I thought AUDITION & SUBTRACTION was a young adult novel before I started reading it.  I know, I know, the cartoon cover should've given it away, but I didn't.  I was kind of disappointed because I wanted to read about high school band.  (Not that I don't have fond memories of middle school band, too.  I'm just hostile to surprise.)

Tatum is a second clarinet in the Dakota Middle School band, but she still has a chance of being one of three clarinets from the school that earns a spot in the District Honor Band.  But there's a new student in town - and he plays the clarinet too.  To make it worse, he starts dating Lori, Tatum's duet partner for the auditions.  She doesn't have a chance if her secret weapon is distracted by the competition.  And it isn't just about District Honor Band - Tatum may have a shot at making the Wind Ensemble as a freshman if she impresses the high school director at her audition.

(Okay, that last bit really bugged me throughout the book.  There are about seven clarinets in the middle school band.  First off, that indicates there should be enough students that the high school needs at least three bands, not just a Wind Ensemble and Concert Band.  Now, a high school Wind Ensemble should have no more than six clarinets - two per part.  There are three clarinets who are better than Tatum in the middle school.  That means there would have to be less than three upperclassmen better than the freshmen for Tatum to make the band.  That's highly unlikely.  Band geekery over!)

AUDITION & SUBTRACTION is both about friendship and believing in your own abilities.  Lori acts like a bad friend during the novel, but part of her attitude was encouraged by Tatum's lack of belief in herself.  Meanwhile, stand buddy Aaron is clearly way into Tatum but she can't see it because she's too busy obsessing over Lori and Michael.  But perhaps he needs to be more direct about his feelings.  Tatum's life is also complicated by her parents' separation.

I think current, past, and prospective band geeks will enjoy AUDITION & SUBTRACTION.  It's a cute, fun read.  I think I would've preferred it as a YA novel, but that's probably just me being cranky.

September 27, 2012

Review: Zip

Book Cover By Ellie Rollins
Available now from Razorbill (Penguin)
Review copy

Ellie Rollins had an absolutely brilliant idea for her first novel.  ZIP is a retelling of THE ODYSSEY with a young girl as the heroine, struggling to get from Kirkland, Washington to Austin, Texas on a scooter in order to save her childhood home.

Lyssa grew up in the Texas Talent Show, where her mother was a star.  Ana brought magic into Lyssa's life - into the lives of everyone she met - onstage and off.  But now she's dead, and Lyssa can't find her mother's magic.  She likes her stepfather Michael, but doesn't like all the changes in her life.  She's also in denial about her mother's death.  Then she finds out that her home, which had been donated to the community, is going to be torn down but the Texas Talent Show is reuniting to protest.  She decides she's going to travel and perform with her made family.

ZIP is a magical journey that will appeal to children with big imaginations.  (And it will definitely help out when they're expected to read Homer during high school and college!)  I loved how Lyssa gets to know a variety of people throughout America, some who are helpful and some who aren't.  There's a strong thread of optimism in ZIP, but it never quite ignores that what Lyssa is doing is dangerous.

As a former resident of Austin, I absolutely loved the ending.  Lyssa lives in an exaggerated version of the real world, but her Austin sure seemed like my Austin.  ZIP isn't the kind of book where you demand things be plausible, but I think the climax was both plausible and a fitting fairytale-perfect resolution.

If you're looking for a good book for an elementary school student, I direct you to ZIP.  Rollins debut will appeal to fans of Roald Dahl and other writers of fantastical adventures.

September 26, 2012

Review: Scorch

Scorch Book Two of the Croak series
By Gina Damico
Available now from Graphia (Houghton Mifflin)
Review copy

I am not a fan of reading series out of order, but I made an exception this time.  I want to read Gina Damico's debut CROAK, but none of the local libraries have it.  But I still went ahead and took the opportunity to review SCORCH since CROAK sounded so awesome.  Teenage grim reapers are right up my alley.

When SCORCH begins, heroine Lex is not in a great place.  Her ability to Damn souls was stolen by Zara (although Lex seems to still be able to use it, if uncontrollably).  Zara is now going about killing bad people, but she started by killing Lex's twin sister.  The older residents of Croak, a community of grim reapers, now distrust the Juniors and their mentor Mort - who also happens to be the mayor and Lex's uncle.

I felt like I figure out the swing of things pretty fast, even though there are a large number of characters.  I never figured out some things, like why all the grim reapers used to be delinquents, but most everything made sense.  Some Grim Reapers are Killers, others are Cullers, and they work together to escort souls to the afterlife and prevent them from becoming ghosts.

SCORCH was as funny as I expected.  But this came at a price.  Even considering Lex can visit her sister, she doesn't seem all that sad or angry about the murder.  It's a sharp contrast to Lex's heartbroken parents when they make a brief appearance.  Plus, SCORCH gets pretty dark at times.  This is a book with a body count.  But Lex always bounces back instantly, although the ending of SCORCH may make her face consequences more.

I also felt that the politics in Croak didn't entirely work.  The people turn on Uncle Mort pretty fast, despite the fact his opponents are obviously slimy and incompetent.  What am I saying, politics are captured perfectly in the story.  I did like the fellow grim reaper city of DeMyse, where people live high and fast but at a price.

I liked SCORCH, but I wish I had been able to read CROAK first.  I prefer to have the full experience.  SCORCH was fun enough that I'll probably make an effort to make up the next book in the series.  (Plus, SCORCH ends on a cliffhanger and I would like to see it resolved.)

September 25, 2012

Review: The Blessed

The Blessed First in a trilogy
By Tonya Hurley
Available now from Simon & Schuster
Review copy

I heard mixed reviews of THE BLESSED before reading the book, but I never quite understood what it was about.  But there's something intriguing about books that people either love or hate.  And based on my experiences with Tonya Hurley's debut series, there was still a 50-50 chance for me.

But, y'know, I didn't love or hate THE BLESSED.

(And I'm still not entirely sure what it's about.)

One fateful night in Brooklyn, three young women - Agnes, CeCe, and Lucy - end up in the hospital.  They have little in common.  Agnes is a typical teen who attempted suicide.  CeCe is a musician who drowned in a pothole.  Lucy is a celebutante who overdosed.  But by the time they leave, they all have something in common.  The three girls each leave with an expensive antique chaplet.  (All of them know what a chaplet is, despite the fact that only one of them is a Catholic school girl.  I had to look it up.)  Only CeCe saw Sebastian, the boy who left them behind.  But soon enough all four of them are drawn to Our Lady of Perpetual Blood during a fierce three-day storm.  That's when things get weird.

I liked that THE BLESSED doesn't stick to one interpretation of events.  It gets inside the head of many of the characters, including the possibly villainous psychiatrist Dr. Frey and the paparazzo Jesse, who is sometimes Lucy's ally.  All of the characters have their own agendas and their own ways of seeing the world, and the truth lies somewhere between how the individuals present it.  That doesn't mean I've figured out the truth.

I don't know what I think.  THE BLESSED is a fever dream of a book, jumbling rock and roll, celebrity, and religious iconography together with abandon.  But I know I'll be back for the second book.  Hurley's created an intoxicating version of Brooklyn, one populated by saints and prophets, and I can't wait to see where she's taking this crazed thrill ride of faith and violence next.  I don't think THE BLESSED is for everyone, but I appreciate that.  I like that a book this strange is getting a big marketing push.  Like Lucy says, you gotta go big.

September 24, 2012

Movie Monday: A Single Man

A Single Man My then roommate and movie-watching buddy R had been dying to see A Single Man, Tom Ford's directorial debut.  The waiting list at the Fine Arts Library was pretty long, but she eventually got it and we watched it that very night.  It left an impression.

I've never read the Christopher Isherwood novel, but I enjoyed the movie.  The movie's strength is not the story, but the images it uses to tell that story.  Tom Ford's use of color and framing is very striking.

Following the death of his partner (Matthew Goode), George (Colin Firth) intends to commit suicide.  The whole movie is muted by his grief, few things truly engaging his senses.  Firth does a wonderful job of portraying the character's emotional turmoil, hidden behind a strong front, and Ford's direction backs up his feeling.

The other actors aren't given as much to do, but they're delightfully ambiguous.  Their motives and feelings aren't entirely clear to George or the viewer.  Julianne Moore plays Charley, George's best friend and one of the few people he wants to see on his last day.  The ridiculously gorgeous Nicholas Hoult plays Kenny, a student of George's who basically stalks him.  (Whenever I see About a Boy, I am amazed how goofy he looked as a kid.)

A Single Man is very stylized and thus not for everybody.  It is not a warm film.  It has a very cold, mannered surface.  But it works because of the core of vulnerability that Firth embodies.  George's weakness is not easily seen, but it's very affecting.

There's also a memorable moment of black comedy towards the end of A Single Man, as George tries to stage his suicide perfectly.  No matter how much he fusses, he can't seem to find a neat and dignified way to shoot himself.  It's a terrible thing to laugh at, but it's a perfect funny and sad scene.

September 23, 2012

A More Diverse Universe Review: The People of Paper

The People of Paper By Salvador Plascencia
Art by Sarah Tillman
Out of print from McSweeney's (HC)
Available now from Mariner Books (Houghton Mifflin) (PB)

Aarti of BookLust came up with the idea of the A More Diverse Universe Tour.  From September 23-29, bloggers will be reviewing speculative fiction titles by authors of color.  You can go here to read more about why this tour is happening.  The full schedule is available here.

THE PEOPLE OF PAPER is not an easy book to describe.  You can throw around terms like 'postmodern' and 'magical realism' to try to get a grip on it.  While both of those are accurate, they're too small for THE PEOPLE OF PAPER.  It's a highly experimental novel, ambitious, a mesh of fiction and fact, a meditation on art, the debut of Salvador Plascencia, and it should be a total mess.  There is a character whose name is cut out of the book.  But it's a mesmerizing work that exceeds its ambition and stands apart as something unique and exciting.

I could tell you that there is a woman made of paper in the story.  There is a prophetic baby who speaks in black rectangles.  There is a grown man, Frederico de la Fe, who still wets his bed.  There is the daughter of the man, Little Merced.  There is Saturn, who the man wars against.  There is Saturn, who is the author.  There's enough crazy typography to make TRISTRAM SHANDY and HOUSE OF LEAVES look like your normal left-to-right reading experience.  There is a love story.  There is a gang war.  There are flower pickers.  Most of the book takes place in California, El Monte, to be specific.  But none of the little details can truly prepare you for reading THE PEOPLE OF PAPER.

Yet, it's the small details that linger with you after finishing.  (And okay, the binary chapter, which - if you're like me - you plugged into your computer to find out what it said.  No, I'm not going to give it away.  I was disappointed at first and then liked it.)  THE PEOPLE OF PAPER is a wild ride, but there's a grounding in character that many less-successful experimental novels forget.  Each of the many narrators has a distinct voice.

And, honestly, I can't imagine many readers THE PEOPLE OF PAPER wouldn't appeal to.  It's a book about making art, about writing, about being a character, about reading, about how books work.  It's bibliophile meta that still functions as a story.

Since the A More Diverse Universe Tour is partially about the author, here is some of Plascencia's description of himself, from an interview with the Nashville Review:
"Professionally—albeit a meagerly profitable enterprise—I’m a writer. But I’m not a professional Mexican; that’s Ruben Navarrette’s gig. I’m a Latino. I’m a writer. I identify as both, but not when “Latino” is serving as a modifier. ...

This might seem like I’m contradicting what I said earlier—I’m not—but what was a major [publisher] going to do with an experimental Mexican-American writer? The reality is that—aside from the Cisneros and Dagoberto Gilb, writers who reinforce parochial views of Latinidad—there are very few of us on the majors. Name them. Off the top of my head, I can only think of Alex Espinoza, Joe Loya, and my fellow El Montian Michael Jaime-Becerra. But Joe and Michael were under Rayo, some HarperCollins specialty imprint aimed exclusively at Latinos. The Houghton Mifflin’s and HarperCollins don’t see us as marketable to the general public. There is Luis Rodriguez—a writer that heavily informed me—but even he is pushed as some sort of exotic criminal. ...

But there are obvious advantages, too. Sometimes, for no good reason aside from the fact that I were born south of the Rio Grande, my name gets tangled up with the greats: Bolaño, Borges, García Márquez. I’m never going to complain when that happens."
A small, personal list of suggestions (mostly YA) for further reading:
  • AKATA WITCH by Nnedi Okorafor - YA novel in my own TBR
  • ALIF THE UNSEEN by G. Willow Wilson - An exciting genre-bender I've reviewed
  • ANGEL SANCTUARY by Kaori Yuki - My all-time favorite manga (only 20 volumes!)
  • ASH or ADAPTATION by Malinda Lo - Fantasy lovers to the first; sci-fi to the second
  • BATTLE ROYALE by Koushun Takumi - Make up your mind about the comparisons to THE HUNGER GAMES; also it's just an interesting read
  • CITY OF THE BEASTS by Isabel Allende - This series used to be pretty popular
  • THE GIRL WITH BORROWED WINGS by Rinsai Rossetti - A lyrical, lovely debut that I adore
  • THE HUNT by Andrew Fukuda - I have this vampire novel on my to-buy list
  • LEGEND series by Marie Lu - Loved the first book and awaiting the second
  • LOST AND FOUND by Shaun Tan - Anything by him is great but I've reviewed this one
  • ONCE UPON A TIME IN AOTEAROA by Tina Makereti - May be harder to find since it's by a Maori writer and published by a small New Zealand press; I only know about it because I received it as a gift
  • THE SATANIC VERSES by Salman Rushdie - Banned Book Week is coming up; make your own decision about the controversy
  • SORRY PLEASE THANK YOU: Stories by Charles Yu - Yu is an emerging talent
  • TANTALIZE series by Cynthia Leitich Smith - Also has a diverse selection of narrators
  • A THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS trans. Husain Haddawy - His translation is so much more better than the popular (public domain) one by Sir Richard Burton I'm not even kidding
  • THE VICIOUS DEEP by Zoraida Córdova - This is my favorite of the mermaid trend

Human Development Foundation of North America

The Human Development Foundation of North America (HDF) does not just focus on literacy.  It's one of five cornerstones of the program, designed to fight poverty in Pakistan.  There's a huge focus on community.  One thing the HDF does is establish and maintain schools, including adult literacy classes.  Close to 5,000 adults have been reached by their efforts.  There are many ways to get involved.  In addition to standard donations, you can sponsor a family for $15/month.  At trade paperback prices, that's giving up less than two books per month.

The HDF has a four-star rating from Charity Navigator.

September 22, 2012

Review: My Book of Life by Angel

My Book of Life by Angel By Martine Leavitt
Available now from Farrar Straus Giroux (Macmillan)
Review copy courtesy of Mrs. Yingling Reads

I really enjoy novels-in-verse.  The good ones are propulsive.  The poetry invites you to linger over the way things are said, yet pushes you along to flow of the words.  I find it very easy to slip into the rhythm of the story in a way that rarely happens with prose fiction.

National Book Award Finalist Martine Leavitt tackles tough topics in MY BOOK OF LIFE BY ANGEL, much like YA-novel-in-verse-heavy-hitter Ellen Hopkins.  The narrator Angel is sixteen, working as a prostitute in Vancouver.  She ran away to live with her boyfriend Call, who unbeknownst to her was a pimp.  He got her addicted to drugs and convinced her that she wouldn't ever be welcome in her home again.  It's a series of events that's happened to far too many girls.

But two events happen that give Angel the strength to go cold turkey.  The first is the disappearance of Serena, a more experienced hooker who watched out for her.  The second is the appearance of Melli, a mute eleven year old who Call wants to turn out.  Angel is not so inured to her life that she's okay with that.  She works double shifts and keeps turning down the drugs in order to protect her young charge.  But as long as Melli is with Call she'll never be safe.

There is a noticeable shift in Angel's narration as she becomes more coherent and able to think more clearly about multiple things at once.   The poetry always felt like a logical way for Angel to express herself.  One of the things that makes the most impact on her during her time with Call is PARADISE LOST, Milton's epic poem, which a john makes her read aloud.

MY BOOK OF LIFE BY ANGEL is for mature readers only.  It deals with prostitution of underage girls, drug abuse, and murders that go ignored.  They are all concepts people have to deal with eventually, but some younger readers may not be ready to handle the intensity of the novel yet.  I had trouble with the end note, which discusses the real court cases and disappearances that inspired MY BOOK OF LIFE BY ANGEL.

This is a good book for anyone looking for a contemporary dealing with the darker side of modern life.  I expect fans of the aforementioned Ellen Hopkins will really enjoy it.

September 21, 2012

Review: Necromancing the Stone

Necromancing the Stone Book Two of the Sam LaCroix books
By Lish McBride
Available now from Henry Holt (Macmillan)
Review copy courtesy of Vanessa Booke

HOLD ME CLOSER, NECROMANCER spent a year or so on my wishlist.  I loved the punny Elton John title and all the reviews said that it was hilarious.  Finally, the ebook was discounted to promote the sequel NECROMANCING THE STONE.  Lish McBride's debut was as good as everyone said and I eagerly moved on to NECROMANCING THE STONE.

There will be spoilers for HOLD ME CLOSER, NECROMANCER in this review.  I recommend reading these books in order because NECROMANCING THE STONE deals with almost nothing but consequences from the first novel.  That works for me, but it might not be as entertaining if you haven't read the first book.

With Douglas' death, Samhain LaCroix - Sam - gained a lot of power, a creepy house, and a position on the Council.  Given that he's new to the paranormal world, he's not entirely sure how to be one of the leaders for his region.  As for the house, at least he has the room to move his friends in and house spirit James doesn't seem like such a bad thing.  But, alas, Douglas isn't quite dead yet.  Fiendish necromancers aren't defeated so easily.

Meanwhile, things with Brid aren't going as smoothly as Sam might hope.  You'd think being locked naked in a cage with someone was all you ever needed.  As things are, Brid needs her pack to trust her, which is already difficult since she's a hybrid.  And dating a necromancer isn't the best way for her to convince them that she'll be a good leader like her father.

The thing I love most about McBride's writing isn't the humor, but the optimism.  Sam has a power that causes most of its users to go bad and he lives in a world where terrible things happen to his friends.  But this is no dark fantasy.  What matters for the characters is friends and family.  There doesn't have to be a cycle of murder if you allow love to guide the way.  (Fortunately, McBride is far less sappy than I am.)

If you like your urban fantasy chock-full of wit, heart, and pop culture references, look no father than HOLD ME CLOSER, NECROMANCER and NECROMANCING THE STONE.  I can't wait for the third book.  And let's not forget this little bonus: Sam is college aged.  Yay for the rise of new adult novels!

September 20, 2012

Judging the Cybils . . .

I am honored to be part of the Cybils this year.  I am one of the first-round judges in the graphic novel category.  I can hardly wait for the nominations to start pouring in!

Have you read any good graphic novels this year?

Review: Because It Is My Blood

Because It Is My Blood Book Two of the Birthright series
By Gabrielle Zevin
Available now from Farrar Straus Giroux (Macmillan)
Review copy

Gabrielle Zevin returns to the future world of ALL THESE THINGS I'VE DONE, where chocolate and coffee are illegal and water carefully rationed.  Anya Balanchine is the oldest daughter of the most powerful chocolate cartel, but her cousins are the ones battling over control of the business.  She's content to stay free.  After all, she spent the summer in juvenile detention.  It's the straight and narrow for Anya.

For a bit.

Anya is a frustrating character.  She's in a position where she needs to be politically savvy and ruthless, but she is very much a seventeen-year-old girl.  She's worried about school and her boyfriend-she-shouldn't-have far more than the family business.  That gets her into trouble at times.  It might be less frustrating if the book weren't narrated by an older Anya who likes to point out when her younger self makes a mistake.

BECAUSE IT IS MY BLOOD takes awhile to get going too.  Anya has to go away, and it serves the narrative since she learns important skills in Mexico, but it also separates her from the supporting cast.  The absence of her best friend Scarlet is particularly felt.  Scarlet's got a spark that's great for lighting Anya up.  It does mean more of the mysterious Yuji Ono, head of a rival chocolate family, which isn't a bad thing.  He comes across, to me, like a peek at Anya's future.  But things really get moving once Anya returns to New York after an assassination attempt.  Assassination always gets things moving.

I like spending time in the Birthright world.  Zevin seems to have put more thought into worldbuilding than many dystopian authors.  Her world isn't wildly repressive, but there are obviously some things that have changed for the worse since our time.  It's not too extreme, to where you wonder how people could ever act in such a way.

Zevin also writes with compassion for the system that makes it hard for anyone marked as a criminal to be anything but a criminal.  Anya wants to be a forensic scientist, but no school wants her to attend since she's been incarcerated.  Just getting a high school education requires navigating several obstacles.  That's not so different from now.

BECAUSE IT IS MY BLOOD does a good job of being a dystopia that will appeal to non-dystopia fans.  There's enough crime drama and exploration of social issues to satisfy a variety of readers.  I, for one, will be back for the next Birthright novel.

September 19, 2012

Review: Every Day

Every Day By David Levithan
Available now from Knopf (Random House)
Review copy

Please note: due to the nature of this novel, I sometimes use gender-neutral pronouns to refer to A.  I like the zie/zir construction.

David Levithan is prolific and celebrated, and EVERY DAY is his best book yet.  It's an imaginative premise brought to fruition by lovely writing and a focus on story rather than politics.  It's an absolutely wonderful novel it's really no surprise that it has received rave reviews from professional newspaper critics.

A has neither a gender nor a sexuality.  A wakes up every day in a different body, inhabiting that person's life for a single day before moving on at midnight.  One day A wakes up in Justin's body and falls in love with his girlfriend, Rhiannon.  Suddenly A is differing from zir hosts' normal lives to see her.  One of those hosts even realizes that A was there.  But A keeps taking risks, because it's love.

David Levithan has a lot to say about people.  Since A moves between races, sexualities, genders, and body types, A can see pretty well past the surface and treat everyone as equal.  But zie is not perfect.  A has issues with understanding long-term consequences and can be very pushy with Rhiannon.  (Sometimes way too pushy for my taste.)  And EVERY DAY stays focused on the narrative rather than drifting into polemic.  The passages where A ends up in the body of someone depressed or addicted drift the closest, but it doesn't overwhelm the story.

I haven't seen many reviews that mentioned Nathan's hunt for A, but it really is an interesting aspect of the novel.  It's the event that prompts A to wonder what zir hosts remember after zie leaves.  It leads to A experimenting more with zie's relationships to zir hosts.  Considering how much I love speculative fiction, I liked that A's existence had rules and that the mechanics of zie's existence where explored.

As for the romantic storyline, it was interesting to see A's obsession with Rhiannon.  I don't think I believe that Rhiannon will be zie's only love, as they are still teens, but I do believe A believed that.  The first chapter, when they meet, is just perfect and really made me want to read on and see how things went for those two crazy kids.  I think Levithan delivered.

EVERY DAY is a wonderful book that will appeal to teens and adults.  Lots of books have cool concepts, but few back up that concept with a truly great story.  But Levithan has the chops to pull it off.

Review: Stormdancer

Stormdancer Book One of the Lotus War
By Jay Kristoff
Available now from Thomas Dunne Books (St. Martin's Press)
Review copy

I couldn't wait to start reading this book.  Fantasy influenced by Japanese mythology?  Civil unrest?  Strong female protagonist?  Bonding with magical animals?  It's taken me a week to finish reading STORMDANCER and I read six other books between chapters.

The first chapter is brilliant.  Kitsune Yukiko is fighting for her life, about to be killed by an oni.  Then the second chapter kicks in, going back in time without any warning.  Learning how Yukiko reached that point is a total slog.  The narrative jumps between point-of-view without warning.  One second you're following along with Yukiko, the next you're in the head of a character who has yet to be introduced.  One of the first scenes has her wondering about a boy with green eyes, despite the fact she's in grave danger.  You'd better keep those green eyes in mind because he doesn't show up for a couple hundred pages.  I remembered them because that was a major "What the hell?" moment for me.  You wonder what in the world happened to opium and why lotus is the drug of choice.  I mean, Japan is at war with the gaijin.  Is China sitting on its thumbs or something?

But, like so many things in life, it gets better.

The mythology is a strong point throughout the novel.  Jay Kristoff throws the reader into the deep end, but I liked it.  It make Yukiko's world feel more immersive.  People without a grounding in Japanese mythology might find it more confusing, but there is an extensive glossary in the back.  And once Buruu, the arashitora (griffin), comes into play the plot kicks into gear.  I was a little disappointed by the bonding aspect of the story, since Yukiko and Buruu become the bestest of pals almost instantly.  But Buruu, and his snarky commentary, is the best thing about STORMDANCER.

Part of my problem with STORMDANCER's beginning is all the bad guys are boring.  The shogun Tora Yoritomo is crazy and violent.  The Guildsmen, who grow the lotus polluting the world, go about in big metal suits burning children for being impure (ie, having supernatural abilities).  Now, I wanted to see Yoritomo die an awful, bloody death.  But until Yukiko meets with the Resistance, the story lacks nuance.  (And believe me, the environmentalism in STORMDANCER makes Miyazaki's use of the theme look subtle.)

And yes, I did promise to move onto how the book gets better.  I love Aisha, the shogun's sister.  Now there's a character who understands shades of grey.  I would've gladly read an entire book about Aisha.  (Yukiko felt bland, like a standard spunky girl.)  I liked that the Guildsmen are obsessed with purity, since the lotus has long been a symbol of purity.  I liked the race to the finish and knowing the perfectly laid plans would somehow go asunder, because plans never work out in life or in fiction.

I intend to read the next book in the Lotus War series.  STORMDANCER picked up enough steam by the end that I want to know what happens next.  Honestly, I think STORMDANCER was a victim of its hype.  If I hadn't so many excited posts before I read the novel I might've been less disappointed.

(No place for this in the review, but some may appreciate the warning that there is extremely icky implied sexual violence.)

September 18, 2012

Review: The Raven Boys

The Raven Boys Book One of The Raven Cycle
By Maggie Stiefvater
Available now from Scholastic Press
Review copy courtesy of Krystal of Live to Read
Read my reviews of LAMENT, BALLAD, SHIVER, and LINGER
Read Maggie's guest blog

Guys, I am blown away.

It's not like I don't know that Maggie Stiefvater is a terrific author.  I've been a fan from the very beginning.  And I knew she was excited about THE RAVEN BOYS, from both her blog posts and hearing her speak at TLA.  I still didn't expect this.  All of the books I've previously crowned the best of the year are going to have to step aside for the true king.

Blue Sargent knows that magic exists.  She lives in a family of seers, though she is not a seer herself; she magnifies others' abilities.  Every seer tells her the same thing: the first boy she kisses, her true love, will die.  Then she sees Gansey's spirit on St. Mark's Eve.  The only explanation is that he's her true love or she kills him.  In Blue's case, it might well be both.  But when she meets Gansey, she doesn't fall for him.  She falls for Adam, one of his best friends.  But she is pulled into the magnetic Gansey's search for a lost Welsh king.

The characterization in this story, you guys.  The characterization.  Gansey cannot say the right thing and he buries himself under a perfect, empty surface.  Ronan is a bundle of anger and hugs for his pet raven Chainsaw.  Adam is a scholarship student and both cares deeply for his friends and wants to make his own way through live without their help.  Noah, the smudgy one, hangs quietly around the edges.  Suffice it to say, I want to knit each raven boy a fuzzy, ugly sweater to replace their school raven sweater and cuddle them and show them that they are loved and it will be okay.  And of course, it isn't going to be okay.  There's an aura of dread throughout THE RAVEN BOYS.  There's going to be death.  It's inevitable.  THE RAVEN BOYS is a book where you know things will not end well.  And I may love happy endings, but I adore impossible situations and certain doom even more.

If you didn't like the Wolves of Mercy Falls series, I'd still give THE RAVEN BOYS a chance.  With it's use of Welsh mythology, it's closer in style to her faerie books.  Even then, THE RAVEN BOYS is a new sort of beast.  It's a book where the magic is limited in scope and barely present, yet frightening to encounter.  It's a book about love - not romantic love, particularly - and the lengths people will go to for love.  And the lengths people will go to for power.  It's about being a teenage boy and being a teenage girl and all the craziness that entails even without life and death on the line.

If this review is incoherent, please excuse me.  I've been left bereft of much of my senses.  The only thing clear to me is that I must read the second book of Stiefvater's Raven cycle as soon as possible.

September 17, 2012

Jill Baguchinsky Answers Her Favorite Question

Spookygirl Today debut author Jill Baguchinsky is guest blogging!  Her debut novel, SPOOKYGIRL: Paranormal Investigator, was released by Dutton last month.  Before that, the manuscript won the 2001 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award.  Now it's a good choice for a fun read as Halloween grows ever closer.  (It's also less fattening than gorging on candy corn and the Reese's shaped like pumpkins.  Not that any of us ever do that.)

Without any further ado, here's Jill!


My Favorite Question

I knew publishing a novel would lead to being asked plenty of questions, but I never could have predicted the one I get most frequently about SPOOKYGIRL: PARANORMAL INVESTIGATOR. Is it something to do with where I got a particular idea, or how long it took me to write the book?

Nope. Over and over I'm asked if that's me on the cover.

The answer: It's definitely not, but thank you. I'm flattered.

I adore SPOOKYGIRL's cover. The first time I saw it was right after the 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award ceremony in Seattle . SPOOKYGIRL had just won in the young adult fiction category. As soon as the winners were announced, Amazon listed our novels for pre-order -- but I didn't know that at the time. I was on the shuttle back to the hotel when I got a message from my brother's friend, who said he'd just ordered my book.

...Wait, what??

I brought up Amazon on my phone's browser and did a search, and there it was -- my book, complete with cover art. The design wasn't finalized, but I approved of what I saw -- a long-haired teenage girl smirking and posing boldly in front of a foreboding bank of stormclouds. I liked that the girl's face was only partially visible; that choice left some of her appearance up to the reader's imagination. More importantly, what I could see of her looked almost eerily like the image of Violet I've had in my head since I wrote SPOOKYGIRL's first draft.

My publisher eventually decided to finalize the design with a few small tweaks. The colors were adjusted a bit. Violet's hair was darkened, and the original green necklace was replaced with a purple one to match her favorite color. (Personally, I would have gone with a black tourmaline stone instead to match the one Violet carries, but that's my only quibble.)

Never once did I expect to be mistaken for the girl on the cover. Okay, there are a few similarities. The hair, for one -- I do have long dark hair that I often straighten. And I guess there's something similar about her smile. Maybe the cover art's version of Violet could be my niece.

She's not me, though. My only spot on the cover is in the author photo on the dust jacket flap.

But I'll never get tired of fielding that question.

Review: Spookygirl: Paranormal Investigator

Spookygirl For the second week in a row there will be no Movie Monday.  But that's because I have a special treat today - a guest blog from debut author Jill Baguchinsky!  Check back in a couple of hours to read it.

By Jill Baguchinsky
Available now from Dutton (Penguin)
Review copy
Winner of the 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award for Young Adult Fiction

Violet's parents used to be paranormal investigators.  Then her mother died on a ghost hunt and her dad became a mortician.  But Violet inherited her mother's ability to see ghosts and can't resist starting her own investigations.  After all, there's something awful in the girls locker room and a ghost jock in her art class.

I liked that there were lots of ghosts for Violet to help in SPOOKYGIRL.  It even led to a few twists I didn't see coming.  Okay, so I wasn't even expecting twists in SPOOKYGIRL, but that just makes them more satisfying in a way.

As for Violet's high school life, there are a few of the standard cliches.  The jocks don't like the goths and all that.  But there a few subversions of the standard tropes that breathe life into the high school scenes once they come into play.  I also liked Violet's new best friend, Tim.  He's adorably awkward, and really believes in Violet and helps her out on her investigations.  Plus, he has a hopeless crush on another girl.  Tim and Violet are totally platonic.  Totally platonic friends of opposite sexes in a novel set in high school are harder to find than a snipe.

My review of THE GIRLS' GHOST HUNTING GUIDE revealed that I'm pretty skeptical of real life ghost hunts.  While Violet does use the methods of professional paranormal investigators, I can stomach her detecting since she can see ghosts and we're firmly in the land of fiction.  But since she does use those methods, SPOOKYGIRL should be pretty satisfying to skeptics and believers alike.

Jill Baguchinsky's debut is the perfect novel for people who love paranormal fiction but want something without the now requisite romance.  SPOOKYGIRL a bit of danger, a lot of humor, and budding friendships.  It's a fun novel and there's definitely room for sequels.

September 16, 2012

The Literacy Site

The Literacy Site supports Room to Read and First Book.  All you have to do is go to the site, click a button, and view the resulting ads.  There is also a store you can shop in and the profits go to buy books.  I've blogged about both Room to Read and First Book and both programs are well worth supporting. vetted original site The Hunger Site, so you can assume your daily clicks are actually helping to buy children books.

September 15, 2012

Review: A Whole Lot of Lucky

A Whole Lot of Lucky By Danette Haworth
Available now from Walker (Bloomsbury)
Review copy

When Hailee Richardson's parents win the lottery, she thinks her whole life is going to change.  But her parents don't quit their jobs and don't run out to buy her new clothes and toys.  The only thing they do is send her to local private school Magnolia Academy, away from her best friend.

But soon enough Hailee's talked her parents into buying her a new bike and a smartphone, and she begins to fit in at Magnolia.  She joins the Library Club with her neighbor Emily, who turns out to be cooler than she expected.  Most of all, she wants to be liked by Nikki Simms, the bad girl who was nice to her on her first day at a new school.

A WHOLE LOT OF LUCKY covers familiar ground, including sibling rivalry, the costs of popularity, and bullying.  Danette Haworth has an easy style that's very comfortable to read.  And comfort is an excellent antidote to middle school.  Like most kids that age, Hailee makes mistakes.  But she learns from the consequences of her actions.

I liked her friends as well.  Amanda, Emily, and Nikki might all be friends with Hailee, but they're very different girls and she relates to them in different ways.  I enjoyed how tough friendship is in A WHOLE LOT OF LUCKY.  It's a worthy pursuit, but it takes effort on both sides of the equation.  The tribulations of socialization don't end as soon as you make friends.

Young girls (and possibly guys) will enjoy A WHOLE LOT OF LUCKY.  It's a cute, relateable middle grade contemporary.

September 14, 2012

Review: The Edge of Nowhere

Book Cover By Elizabeth George
Available now from Viking (Penguin)
Review copy

You may be familiar with Elizabeth George since her Inspector Lynley series is quite popular.  THE EDGE OF NOWHERE is her young adult debut and proves that she might have a future in the genre.  (Which is good, since there is quite a bit of set up for a series.)  George doesn't completely leave her roots behind - THE EDGE OF NOWHERE is something of a mystery that isn't a mystery.

Becca King used to be known as Hannah Armstrong.  But she can hear whispers of other people's thoughts and she 'heard' her stepfather admitting he killed his partner.  She and her mother run and her mother arranges for Becca to stay with an old friend on Whidbey Island.  But that old friend dies the night Becca arrives and she's left to fend for herself.  She soon meets several islanders who turn out to be important when popular and athletic Derric, whom she bonded with instantly, is hurt in the woods.  No one knows whether he was fell or was pushed, and the people who were in the woods with him aren't forthcoming about their reasons for being there.

There are several romances in THE EDGE OF NOWHERE, but I loved that the central boy-girl relationship is a platonic one.  High-school dropout Seth Darrow turns out to be Becca's greatest ally and not the stoner the entire town thinks he is.  He's hard-working and sweet, but doesn't have much direction aside from wanting to be a musician.  The book sometimes slips into his point of view as well as that of his ex-girlfriend Hayley.  The shifts in perspective emphasize how people make decisions about those around them based on little information.

THE EDGE OF NOWHERE is not a plot-driven book.  While someone might have hurt Derric, there isn't the urgency of a murderer on the loose, and Becca's stepfather is a distant spectre.  This is more of a getting to know the cast novel.  Becca isn't the only person with secrets on Whidbey Island and she might not even be the only person with powers.  George's novel relies on small-town atmosphere and enigmatic characters to keep the story moving.  It worked for me.

Fans of claustrophobic, character-driven fiction will flock to THE EDGE OF NOWHERE.  The promise of future paranormal shenanigans and the stepfather's reappearance will have readers clamoring for the sequel.  I haven't read the Inspector Lynley books, so I don't know if George's adult audience will be interested in THE EDGE OF NOWHERE.  But I'd tell them to give it a try.

BBAW: The Finish Line!

It's day five of Book Blogger Appreciation Week and time to say goodbye to the event for another year.  Sadly, the event coincided with compute problems and I basically wasn't able to get on at all on Thursday and likely won't be able to explore much today either.  It's still been fun!

I think the interviews were the highlight of the week.  It was a great way to learn about a number of bloggers quickly.

I also loved clinking on random names on the daily link lists and finding all sorts of new blogs.  I can get stuck in my blogroll, so it's nice to discover some new blood!  The first day was also great for finding new blogs to read since everyone recommended their favorites.

The conversation has also been wonderful.  It's lovely to talk to so many bloggers every day.  I'll have to try to keep it up!

What did you like best about BBAW?

September 13, 2012

Review: Josie Griffin Is Not a Vampire

Josie Griffin By Heather Swain
Available now from Speak (Penguin)
Review copy

Josie Griffin is a good kid.  She's got straight As and volunteers for Habitat for Humanity.  She edits the school newspaper.  But she took a bat to her boyfriend's classic car when she caught him cheating on her with her best fried.  Now, Josie Griffin is sentenced to anger management and community service.

But there's something strange about her anger management class.  All of the kids think they are some sort of magical being.  Vampires, werewolves, pixies, Greek gods . . .  and there's something weird about Helping American Girls too.  Girls keep disappearing from the shelter but leaving all of their stuff - including phones - behind.  Josie, who wants to be a reporter, is determined to figure out what's happening and save the remaining girls.

JOSIE GRIFFIN IS NOT A VAMPIRE is cute, funny, and serious when it needs to be.  For instance, the pixie Tarren lives on the wrong side of the tracks while Helios is part of the 1%, which causes friction between them.  Urban fantasy fans will enjoy how JOSIE GRIFFIN IS NOT A VAMPIRE plays with the tropes of the genre.  Nonhuman being living in plain sight is pretty typical, but the heroine stumbling over them on accident isn't.  (Josie also, hilariously, pretends to be a werepire.)

I liked the characters too.  The members of the group all have trouble keeping their powers under control in public.  But their reactions are pretty understandable.  Hiding who you are is frustrating, especially when you're a teenager.  And, if you could hex the guy trying to convince you to "date" him in an alley, wouldn't you?  Plus, they're a refreshingly friendly and goofy bunch.  No brooders here, even if the vampire Johann does miss the days of disco.

JOSIE GRIFFIN IS NOT A VAMPIRE is perfect for readers searching for a book on the lighter side of urban fantasy.  It has a little mystery, a little action, and lots of personality.  Just don't expect any anger management tips.

BBAW: Obscure Favorites

It's day four of Book Blogger Appreciation Week, and time to pimp some obscure books!  When I started writing my Best Authors You Aren't Reading feature, I didn't intend for it to be sporadic.  But I quickly figured out that defining obscurity was tough.  What if the book won an award but has few reviews on Amazon or Goodreads?  What if you can find lots of reviews but the book is out of print?  And how do you define "lots" of reviews?  How do 115 reviews of a book released in 2010 compare to 115 reviews of a book released in 2002?  So I don't want to pimp just one under the radar book, because it might not be so under the radar.  So here are three books I love, that as far as I know aren't well known.  All three are out of print, but copies are available for cheap through secondhand bookshops.

The China Garden THE CHINA GARDEN by Liz Berry

THE CHINA GARDEN made YALSA's Best Book for Young Adults list in 1997.  I first read it in 2001.  I'd noticed it on the shelf in the bookstore for years.  I was entranced by the cover, a ghostly figure moving down a sunlit path.  (I would, once I owned the book, realize it was a silhouette of a couple kissing.)  Then I found a copy for twenty-five cents in the library's book sale.  I eagerly bought it, but didn't read it immediately.  I read it for the first time in the car, moving from Houston to a Fort Worth suburb in the wake of my parents' divorce.

I then proceeded to read it everyday for a month, if not longer.

I don't know why THE CHINA GARDEN is what I needed.  It's a romance, about a good girl and a bad boy.  It's a story of family secrets - turns out the heroine Clare didn't even know her mother's real name.  (For that matter, she didn't know her own middle name.)  It's a tale of magic and things worth protecting.  It's delightfully English and incredibly sensual.

Or maybe I do know why I needed it.  It's about a girl whose mother takes her from everything she knows and moves her out to the sticks.  Clare had her life planned and suddenly she doesn't understand what's going on and why everyone knows things she doesn't.  It spoke to me, even if I wasn't at the age to want a boy with a motorcycle to come along and sweep me off my feet.

The Tricksters THE TRICKSTERS by Margaret Mahy

New Zealand author Margaret Mahy died this year, at the age of 76.  She left behind quite a legacy.  My three favorites, of the many books she wrote, are THE CHANGEOVER, MEMORY, and THE TRICKSTERS.  But THE TRICKSTERS is my absolute number one favorite.

I wrote about it here for Angieville's Retro Friday.

Don't want to follow the link?  That's fine.  I can list a few of the best things about the novel: a dreamer heroine, sinister strangers, unexpected twists, and conflicting, passionate desires.  It's not a simple novel, but one that rewards the careful reader.

Tell it to Naomi TELL IT TO NAOMI by Daniel Ehrenhaft

I have a soft spot for TELL IT TO NAOMI because it's one of the first books I read as an ARC.  (The very first was Sara Manning's GUITAR GIRL.)  I've always had a soft spot for it.  It's just a simple, cute novel about a guy pretending to be his older sister in order to write an advice column, as one does.  I only learned Daniel Ehrenhaft has written other books a year or two ago, and I still need to read them.  (He also writes under the name of Erin Haft.)

But I want to read his other books because TELL IT TO NAOMI has such a strong voice.  I can still remember details of the music Dave's family listened too.  Also, it was one book I know I like that counts as obscure under any definition you can think of.

September 12, 2012

Review: Unspoken

Unspoken Book One of the Lynburn Legacy
By Sarah Rees Brennan
Available now from Random House
Review copy
Read my reviews of THE DEMON'S LEXICON and TEAM HUMAN

I don't know if people follow my links to previous reviews of an author's books.  Oh, sometimes I do, if I look at my stats at the right moment, but I'm talking about the general case.  But what I'm getting at is that if you read my review of THE DEMON'S LEXICON, it isn't glowing.  Oh, it's positive, but it's not gushing.  But in the almost three years since I've written that review, I've read THE DEMON'S LEXICON several times and completed the series.  I can't say that for most of the books I've reviewed.  Sarah Rees Brennan created a set of characters that I wanted to spend time with, even if they made bad decisions or hurt each other.  With UNSPOKEN, she's done that again.

Kami Glass is not your average girl reporter.  For one thing, the school paper didn't exist until she made it exist.  And the other reporter is her best friend, the lazy and beautiful Angela, who didn't realize what Kami was doing until it was too late to escape her plans.  Then a couple of juicy stories fall into her lap.  The Lynburns return to Sorry-in-the-Vale and teenage Ash shows up to headquarters asking to be the paper's photographer and thus perfectly placed to be interviewed about his family's secrets.  And fellow student Holly comes to Kami with a tip about a murdered animal on the side of the road.

Then Kami's imaginary friend shows up in the flesh.

The blurb claims that "Sarah Rees Brennan brings the Gothic romance kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century," and I can't disagree with that.  She delivers not one but three awesome heroines who use their variety of talents to get in and out of trouble.  The boys - the Lynburn cousins - are pretty great too.  They aren't perfect characters - even Kami has her faults.  But most of them are pretty good about trying to be better when their faults are addressed.  And there are secrets around every corner.  Even innocuous old ladies have secrets!  There's plenty of that Gothic steaminess to go around too.  There are lots of potential couples, including a lesbian one, but of course it is never just as easy as liking someone.  Especially not when you're in high school and everyone has secrets.

But don't go thinking UNSPOKEN is stuffy.  It is, in fact, hilarious.  Take the following passage:
"We're going to die."  Something else dawned on her.  "And where is your shirt?"
"Let me explain," said Jared.  "I had just gone to bed, like a reasonable person, when you decided to get tossed into a well like a crazy person.  And then it was a matter of some urgency to reach you.  You're lucky I tripped over my jeans on the way out the door."
"You leave your jeans on the floor?" Kami asked, horrified.  "You're messy on top of everything else?  This day just keeps getting worse." - p. 56, ARC
There are very few people in the cast who don't enjoy a good joke, and that includes the adults.  (One major exception is town matriarch Lillian Lynburn, who might deign to raise her eyebrow in contempt when she hears a particularly fine jest.)

The end of UNSPOKEN comes rather abruptly.  The plot does reach a climax and everything - that's my pet peeve and you know I'd be angrily ranting if it didn't.  But the ending does remind you that yes, UNSPOKEN is the first book in the Lynburn Legacy and things are not going to end all tied up with a bow.  But for those who don't deal with long waits well, you might want to wait to read UNSPOKEN until the next book is out.  I haven't had my heart ripped out and stomped on so thoroughly since Holly Black's WHITE CAT.

Either way, I recommend you read UNSPOKEN eventually.  It's a funny tale of derring-do, intrepid reportage, young love, magic, and human sacrifice.  Just like they used to write 'em.

BBAW: What Book Blogging Means to Me

It's day three of Book Blogger Appreciation Week and I'm not sure how to approach today's topic.  What does book blogging mean to me?

It's not a question with a concrete answer.  Book blogging means a lot of different things to me.  On the most basic level, it means writing about books in a place where others can easily discover and read that writing.  But that's not a very interesting answer.

Part of my motivation for blogging, that is quite relevant to this week, is to push myself out of my comfort zone.  There is a social connotation to blogging and I'm not at my smoothest when meeting new people.  In person, I tend to be quiet around people until I get to know them and then I don't shut up.  But on my blog, no one is going to speak up if I don't.  I have to be chatty from the word go.  The more I blog, the better I get at it.  And let's face it, social skills are super important.

The comfort zone pushing applies to books as well.  I have my favorite niches.  I'd probably go crazy if I wasn't allowed to read anything but urban fantasy novels, but it would take longer than if I was asked to read only modern poetry.  There's nothing wrong with modern poetry, but I prefer it in small doses.  I also don't seek it out.

But the thing about book blogging is you don't always have to seek something out.  You'll get pitches from people who obviously never read your review policy, but some of those books will sound interesting anyway.  You'll enter a contest on a whim and win a book you might not have been willing to pay for.  You'll see books on someone else's blog, on Tumblr, on Goodreads, on LibraryThing, and you'll remember it and read it later.  Book blogging is throwing yourself bodily into the path of new, strange, wondrous books.

Some of those books will be total crap, but let's not talk about that.

So what does book blogging mean to you?  Is this a question that makes you want to run for cover?  Because that's kind of how it makes me feel.

September 11, 2012

Review: Personal Effects

Book Cover By E. M. Kokie
Available now from Candlewick
Review copy

Seventeen-year-old Matt Foster is on the cusp of graduating from high school.  He's not getting into state school, and his father is pushing him to enlist.  But his older brother asked him to stay out of the army shortly before he died in Iraq.  Matt's angry and confused and the only thing he knows for sure is that he wants to go through his brother's personal effects.

Then he gets his chance and discovers a set of love letters revealing that his brother was in a serious relationship for years.  And there's one still sealed - the one his brother never sent.  Matt borrows his best friend Shauna's car to deliver the letter and discovers he knew even less about his brother than he thought.  (And he might not know as much about Shauna as he thought either.)

E. M. Kokie's debut is raw, not in the sense of lacking polish, but in the emotions on display.  There's grief, love, anger, all bound up in the personal and the political.  Matt wants to figure out who he is and part of that is knowing who his brother was.  Their mother went a little nuts before her death and their father is abusive, so T.J. was Matt's closest and most positive familial relationship.

I highly recommend PERSONAL EFFECTS.  It's timely and compelling, and the sort of book that will appeal to both boys and girls.  It's never didactic, but allows for opposing views on a variety of relevant controversial subjects.  Compassion is never forgotten.  Matt's voice and story lingered in my head for days after finishing PERSONAL EFFECTS.  Kokie displays some powerful storytelling abilities and I look forward to reading whatever she writes next.

(Also, Candlewick?  Publishing PERSONAL EFFECTS on Sept. 11?  I see what you did there and I like it.)

BBAW: Interview with Charlotte of Charlotte's Library

Welcome to Day 2 of Book Blogger Appreciation Week!  I've seen the BBAW interviews before, but this is the first year I've participated.  It's just as fun as everybody says it is!  (Side note: new visitors might want to enter my AMERICAN DERVISH giveaway.)

I interviewed Charlotte of Charlotte's Library and she interviewed me.  You may be familiar with her blog because of her weekly Sunday round-up of posts about middle grade science fiction and fantasy.  But whether you've heard of Charlotte's Library or not, it is my pleasure to introduce her.

House of Shadows IBWB: What is your favorite thing about being a book blogger?
CL: I've been blogging for five and a half years now, and my perspective on blogging has changed a lot!  If you had asked me this back in, say, 2009, I'd have said that the Excitement of it all was the best thing--the community, the books arriving in the mail, the getting to know authors, the delightful feeling that there were so many books waiting to be read...

Now my favorite thing is much more prosaic. It's the sense of accomplishment when I write a review and hit the publish button. So many things in my life (house, job, children) are never Finished, so I love that little thrill of having satisfactorily completed something that it as least a little worthwhile to have done.

The False PrinceIBWB: What's the most challenging part?
CL: Finding enough uninterrupted time to read and write is a huge challenge. I'm not entirely sure how I do it, and still manage get my children of to school in (mostly) clean clothes...

IBWB: I find that writing a book blog takes up a decent chunk of time.  How do you balance motherhood with book blogging?
CL: The greatest challenge motherhood poses to book blogging for me at this point is not that the children themselves are demanding all that much of my time. My cunning plan to have two of the same gender reasonably close in age has paid off, and they play together nicely, and they are also old enough to forage for themselves.   No, the big problem is that we have only one computer, and they love it so.   I have had to resort to leaving home to go blog on the library computers down the street...

I have not guilt whatsoever about book blogging. I am utterly convinced that they are better people in so many, many ways because they have a mother who blogs, and I'm sticking to that story. Now if they were from a two blogger family, that might be a bit much...

Seven SorcerersIBWB: What has been the coolest thing that happened to you because of your book blog?

CL: The first and one of the most memorable cool things that happened was that Candlewick invited me to be their gusts at the banquet for the Independent Booksellers Association, when I'd still been blogging for less than a year...It was So Cool to be part of the book world! Here's the post I wrote about it:

Shadow SpellIBWB: Can you name a few books flying under the radar that you really love?

CL: So far this has been a slowish book year for me book love wise--there have been lots of books I really liked, lots of books I think their target audience will love, and lots of books for which I can understand other people's enthusiasm, but not so many new books that I Loved just for my own reading pleasure. House of Shadows, by Rachel Neumeier, and The False Prince, by Jennifer Nielsen, are the only two I actively want to re-read, which is my measure of book love, but neither of those is really under the radar...

However, this year is my first time ever keeping track of the books I read on Goodreads (194 right now, but the day is still young), and so I am reminded that Yes! There is a book that I think many more people should read! Last year Seven Sorcerers, by Caro King, didn't get anywhere near the attention it deserved, and this year the sequel, Shadow Spell, is in the same boat. Anyone looking for a truly entertaining, good read of a middle grade fantasy should try these two!

Odd and the Frost GiantsIBWB: What book do you find yourself recommending the most?

CL: Odd and the Frost Giants, by Neil Gaiman, is one that leaps to mind, if I'm recommending one for, say, nine year old. My own most favorite books tend to be out of print and though I might well recommend Sally's Family, by Gwendoline Courtney, to anyone wanting an utterly soothing comfort read full of domestic detail set in just post WW II England, it won't do them much good...

IBWB: Not many bloggers specialize in middle grade novels, but you cover MG more than YA. What led you to your niche?

CL: I was a sci fi/fantasy Cybils panelist for two years, at a time when the panelists read both YA and MG (it's now done by two separate panels), and I realized that I really liked the MG books much better.  They are shorter and snappier.  They aren't as often in written in the 1st person present angst tense.  There are fewer love triangles, and less romance in general (I love a nice romance, but my favorite ones are the smoldering ones where the tension is everything...). I don't like zombies or vampires. I don't like people suffering (although well-done suffering makes good reading, so there are exceptions), and fighting tends to bore me. And one time through high school was plenty.

With MG you risk going back to junior high (ick), but odds of getting a fun escapist read are much more in your favor (it makes me feel a little consternated, typing that, because the reason I don't read grown up books is that they are too much real life for me... soon I will be reading mainly picture books if this trend keeps up). Middle grade books tend to take place in more pleasant settings, too--I love books that make me see lovely and interesting things, and what with all the darkness in YA, you don't see many appealing vistas. It's true that with MG there's more chance of running into pirates and dogs (which are on my do not care for list along with the vampires and zombies), but you can't have everything in this imperfect world....(that being said, I have no objection to dogs in real life.  And the original Lassie is a really good book).

So there I was three or so years ago, liking the middle grade better, and this was about the same time that the YA bloggerverse seemed to explode, and there were tons of people reviewing the YA sci fi/fantasy, and the same YA books were getting attention all over the place. I feel it's a bit pointless to review books that have received lots of attention elsewhere, and in the meantime, there were all these middle grade fantasies getting not many reviews...

And here I am today, niched, but not trapped. (And I actually read a lot more YA than I review.)

September 10, 2012

Review: Crusher

Due to BBAW and the fact that I am reviewing approximately a million books this month, there will be no Movie Monday today.  If you are broken up about this, please tell me so that I know people like the feature.  If you are cheering about this, please tell me so that I know people don't like the feature.

CrusherBy Niall Leonard
Available tomorrow (Sept 11) from Delacorte Press (Random House)
Review copy

CRUSHER was so obviously a generic thriller title that I paid it little attention.  Imagine my surprise when it was relevant to the story in multiple ways.  It's one of the many ways CRUSHER was a pleasant surprise.  It landed on my porch not too long ago, but caught my attention because it had been overnighted.  That's not usual for an unsolicited review copy.

The included letter started by talking about Niall Leonard's wife, E L James (FIFTY SHADES OF GREY) and mentioned he'd just written CRUSHER last November.  That made me a touch wary, concerned that CRUSHER had been rushed into production due to Leonard's association with infamy.  And, okay, I still assumed that happened, but CRUSHER can stand on its own merits.

Quick note: I read the UK text.  I don't know if the US version will be any different, but generally references to salad on sandwiches and such is changed.  Now back to the review.

Finn Maguire doesn't have much hope for the future.  He works in fast food without much hope of advancement since he dropped out of high school.  He can't read well due to dyslexia and a lack of academic encouragement.  He lives in squalor with his father, an out-of-work actor who talks about becoming a screenwriter but never manages to sell any of his work.  Coming home from work one day, Finn finds his father murdered.  The police suspect Finn, leading him to start his own investigation.

Soon, Finn is mixed up with the biggest gangster around and getting by day-by-day now includes not getting killed himself.  I really liked Finn's character.  He's determined and clever, absolutely terrific at improvising, but he's not that smart.  He's got a strong moral center too.  He'll defend himself and he'll lie to get to the truth, but he's not the kind of guy who leaves a trail of collateral damage.  He doesn't like letting people he doesn't like get hurt if he knows he can stop it.

I love a good crime drama, and that's exactly what CRUSHER is.  It's sordid and filled with characters you can't trust and utterly absorbing.  I loved following Finn's quest to catch his father's killer.  Fantastically, he isn't a great detective.  He's brilliant on stumbling onto trouble and pretty lucky he took all those boxing lessons, but he doesn't yet have an instinct for putting the pieces together.  He can still make it work.

I think I read CRUSHER in less than two hours.  I ate my breakfast on Saturday, settled down to read, and didn't come up for air until I was done.  Few books catch my attention that thoroughly anymore.  Mystery fans, thriller fans, boxing fans: check out CRUSHER.  It's quite a ride.

BBAW: Blogs I Enjoy

It's the first day of Book Blogger Appreciation Week!  The first daily topic is straightforward: write about book bloggers we appreciate.

Level 2 I'd like to start with some of the bloggers who inspired me to start my own blog.  Those ladies include Professor Nana of The Goddess of YA Literature and Rachel of The Book Muncher.  I once credited Lenore of Presenting Lenore as an influence, but it turns out my memory was faulty that day, as Lenore then pointed out that my blog was older than hers.  Either way, Lenore is a terrific blogger who once let me crash in her apartment and showed me around while I was in Germany.  I can't wait to read her debut novel, LEVEL 2, when it comes out next year.

When I first started my blog, I reviewed urban fantasy fairly frequently.  (Nowadays I tend to do that on The Good, The Bad and The Unread rather than here.)  But three urban fantasy reviewers really supported me through those early days.  I'd like to thank Amberkatze, Sidhe Vicious, and Tez Miller.  Tez and Amberkatze are still active bloggers.

Two blogs with features I really love are Stacked and Intergalactic Academy.  Stacked's reviews are long and informative and their articles are very well thought out.  They ran a "So You Want to Read YA . . ." feature this summer that was ingenious and I'm happy they're considering continuing it.  Intergalactic Academy has an ongoing Animorphs reread that I'm getting a major kick out of, considering Animorphs was my absolute favorite series as a kid.  (I still have a giant box full of the entire series.)  One of the contributors, Phoebe North, has a novel called STARGLASS coming out in July 2013 from Simon & Schuster.  (You can win a copy here.)  Given her (and her partner's) terrific insight into young adult science fiction, I'm sure it will be a fabulous read.

Two of my favorite bloggers are Lauren of Shooting Stars Mag and Cecelia of The Adventures of Cecelia Bedelia.  Lauren's taste isn't the same as mine, but I admire her.  She's organized some cool publicity for several great books and she started a scholarship program for LGBT students.  How awesome is that?  Conversely, Cecelia and I have very similar tastes, making her reviews super useful for me.  Plus she posts all kinds of mouthwatering recipes.  I highly suggest you take a whirl around her blog.

It would take forever to mention every single blog and blogger that I love.  But I can tell you how much time it would take me to list every blog and blogger I hate: no time at all.  Any group of people that loves books is alright by me.

Let's get BBAW off to a good start!  Why don't you tell me a little about yourself and your blog in the comments?  I'd love to add some new people to my blogroll.

September 9, 2012

Titles From the Same Source

Earlier in the year I wrote about a few YA titles that sounded rather similar that had been popping up on my radar.  Since then I've noticed a few more.

This is Not a Drill This is Not a Test

THIS IS NOT A DRILL by Beck McDowell (Nancy Paulsen Books, October 25) showed up unannounced and I slipped it into my TBR title.  But I keep slipping when I say the title and calling it THIS IS NOT A TEST, like the Courtney Summers book from St. Martin's that I reviewed in June.  Both are set in schools, but have little in common aside from that.  Well, both also have a title referencing automated warning systems.  The titles might cause some confusion for shoppers, but since the subject matter is so different a little knowledge of the synopsis should be enough to tell them apart.  (This is a situation in which a good librarian or clerk is likely to be more helpful than a search engine.)

The Fault in Our Stars Jepp, Who Defied the Stars

THE FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green (Dutton) is already considered a modern classic and crossover success.  JEPP, WHO DEFIED THE STARS by Katherine Marsh (Hyperion, October 9) is getting some great reviews.  I'll be reviewing it for the official tour on October 2nd, as well as hosting a guest blog and giveaway.  Again, these are two very different books - one is contemporary; the other historical.  But both books' titles reference Cassius' famous admonition "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves" from William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar.  It's a great quote that suits both books well and considering how little they overlap, it shouldn't hurt either one.

Noticed any other recent titles that share DNA?


K.I.D.S. stands for Kids in Distressed Situations.  This charity provides new clothes (including shoes), books, toys, and more to children - to the tune of over a billion dollars worth of stuff given away since 1985.  As of 2010, K.I.D.S. reached 30% of the children living in poverty in the US.  The kids aided by K.I.D.S. live in areas struck by natural disasters, areas with chronic poverty, or have families that suffered something distressing.  Many of the books K.I.D.S. donates go to after-school tutoring programs and Native American communities.

There are many ways to get involved, and one of K.I.D.S.'s cornerstones is partnerships with retailers.  Click here for a list of places you can shop to help.

Here are three current campaigns:
From now through September 25, for every pair or package of socks bought at Stride Rite (in NY, TX, or FL) one will be donated to K.I.D.S.
From now through October 23, for every purchase of select products from Garnet Hill, $20 in merchandise will be donated to K.I.D.S.
For free, you can upload a happy baby photo to Baby Einstein.  For every photo, $1 will be donated to K.I.D.S. (up to $25,000).

K.I.D.S. has a four-star rating from Charity Navigator.


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