Thursday, November 29, 2007

What I Was by Meg Rosoff

Ever since I heard Meg Rosoff had a new book out, I've been desperate to get my hands on it. How happy I was then to discover it by happenstance at work while perusing the galleys available for staff to take home and read! What luck no one had already snatched it up. I read it the same day.

The book begins as a 16 year old boy is dropped off at St. Oswald’s boarding school. It proves to be a particularly a poor example which specializes in bad food, cramped rooms, and plumbing from the 1800s. The teaching staff seems dedicated to low expectations of students, thus being able to maintain as many students as possible, a difficulty no doubt seeing how it is a third rate school. H (our unnamed narrator) has been kicked out of two previous schools. He’s not a scholar, he’s not an athlete, he’s not really much of anything.

“My lack of distinction was mainly restricted to photographs and
schoolwork. When it came to opinions, I was (I am) like the sword of Zorro:
swift, incisive, deadly. My opinions on the role of secondary education, for
instance, are absolute…

…I will, however, grant them something. Without the first, I would not
have ended up at the second. Without the second, I would not have attended St.
Oswald’s. Without St. Oswald’s, I would not have met Finn.

Without Finn, there would be no story.”
Rosoff’s writing is spectacular. This is her third novel, her first for adults, and the writing in my opinion left very little to be desired. I’d love to post entire sections to show how wonderfully she is able to describe the setting both social and physical. It was her ability to describe that drew me into the story rather than the characters themselves. I found the narrator to be off-putting and not sympathetic in the least. But the landscape was breathtaking. It was at the mercy of the tide, the weather, and gravity. The coastline was slowly sinking, quite literally into the sea and had already reclaimed medieval towns. Simply put, it had a history so rich I wanted to know more than just the glimpses she offered me.

Alternately, the characters, H especially, left more to be desired. I never warmed up to him. He was cold, distant and sort of analytical – an old man who was telling the story of his 16th year. A man whose blunt recounting seemed to be telling everything (including the ugly parts), but still somehow managed to feel as though he was holding back. Much of the book deals with his feelings towards Finn, the boy who lives in an old fishing shack on an island only accessible during low tide. It is never clear what his true feelings for Finn are. Does he worship him as someone he wishes he could be? Does he have romantic feelings for him? Is it more akin to obsession? Or does he feel something based on an intuitive sense of the big secret Finn is hiding? The relationship is further complicated by Reese, a school mate of H’s. Is Reese meant to serve as a mirror to H? An example of H in an alternate reality of what could be, should be, or might be? I certainly didn’t come to any conclusion (although other reviewers seem to have).

It is this uncertainty that led me to feel some frustration with the book. Along with my inability to like H in any way, shape, or form. I just didn’t like him. And for me, that’s ultimately what kept this book from really shining. The writing was stellar, but I never felt as though I made the necessary connection with the characters.

I find it interesting Rosoff’s status as an author of Teen Fiction is obviously confusing the heck out of people because no one seems to know where to place this book. Not only is it showing up on many sites as a teen book, but it was also reviewed in The Times Children’s Books section and The Guardian seems to sidestep the issue. The back of the book (although I am referring to the unpublished galley) clearly states that this is an adult book. In fact, it refers to her as “Formerly a YA author.” Read an article written by Rosoff herself as she deals with that sticky area of who she is actually writing for. In my opinion, this seemed like an adult book. Not because there was anything “indecent” or risqué, but because it just didn’t seem to have much in the way of teen appeal.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

being thankful for gossip girl

hey people!

it's me, your owcgg correspondent! first off, i hope you all had a wonderful thanksgiving holiday full of good food, a loving family, great friends, and maybe even a little 5 mile run to start the day off with. (it was an accident. how i could ever confuse a 5 mile race with a 5K race I'll never know but it's going to earn me some extra vaca time at work and it was quite fun... but that's a different blog entirely!)

secondly, you didn't forget about me did you?? i'm sure you didn't, i mean how could you? i've got important information to dish out. without me who would be your connection to the "upper east side"??? well, no fear! i'm back! let's get down to the nitty-gritty, shall we? since i'm a few episodes behind we'll have to back track a bit for some you. here's a little recap of the past 3 episodes for those that missed out. i think a perfect place to start is...

vanessa! what the hell?!?! this is like another character blunder in my opinion. first off, she's got hair!!! jessica szohr is gorgeous. i guess that really isn't an issue but her unbelievably amazing hair is! vanessa's bald head is going to be, i guess, like book jenny's boobs... just non-existant. yet another disappointment. *sigh* but i guess the show needed some kind of issue between dan and serena other than the "we're from two different worlds" card. and i can see how this is already going to be an issue... hot bestfriend and hot girlfriend. this quite resembles nate's predicament in the books, two hot bestfriends one of which turns into his gf... anyway, vanessa's hair is an issue for me as is her impeccable style. but what's new about me having issues with parts of this show???

moving on... rufus kisses lily! who cares if it's only to make bart bass jealous so he'll pay attention to her!?! it was a kiss and it gave me hope that something might be happening there. of course that gets squashed but i'll get to that later.

nate confesses his undying love to serena while at the masked ball. at least he thought it was serena. unfortunately for him it was little miss jenny. or maybe i should say unfortunately for jenny but of course that's going to turn into something interesting as well later on.

dan has finally "picked" serena over vanessa and man... those two seriously need to get a room! they are making out everywhere. i swear if serena could have gotten naked and jumped dan's bones in the courtyard of their school she would have done it! down girl! down!

chuck talks his dad into buying a burlesque club and allowing him to manage it. hmmmm, maybe we should get to that one in a minute...

jenny lets it slip to blair that nate confessed his undying love to her, a.k.a. serena, at the masked ball. of course blair takes it out on jenny and we find her running from the penthouse in tears... once again.

nate's dad has a coke problem and i'm not talking the caffienated beverage kind. when nate's mom finds his stash the captain blames it on nate. what a great dad!

nate's family has dinner with blair's family where there's talk of a marriage. nate gets his dad arrested and we later learn he's been embezzling cash from his company... probably to support his caffeine addiction (ha!) and i think this is where nate and blair break up b/c blair let's on that she knows he's still in love with serena.

blair goes to hang out with chuck at his dad's new investment and decides to let loose... which leads to being loose in chuck's limo... with chuck! ew! that's disappointing too. blair's first time was such a big deal in the series. it was this huge never ending thing between her and nate in the books and in the 8th episode she gives it up to chuck bass! ew, blair. seriously. ew.

chuck is now, naturally, in love with blair. he's like a puppy... it's even more disgusting in a weird, cute, sincere kind of way. blair's birthday is coming up. when nate doesn't show at her party, or call by midnight, chuck is there to hold her up... or hold her... whatever. and serena sees them kissing! guess that cat is out of the bag. now what blair thinks she's doing with chuck, your guess is as good as mine. i think she's crazy or incredibly lonely... i'm gonna go with lonely... or maybe crazy...

wondering where nate was? he was with jenny! *gasp* nate was contemplating going up the party when jenny walked up. nate asked her to go for a walk and a few hours later at exactly midnight they were spotted hugging outside jenny's building. i bet i can tell ya where that's going! but jenny, what happened to eric? he may have tried to kill himself but you two were so cute and innocent looking together! though you and nate could definitely be very naive together!

dan shows up at blair's party with vanessa in tow. she and serena begin bonding over guitar hero. i prefer to do my video bonding over some wii but to each his own, i guess.

dan and jenny's mom comes home! she's annoying, though. is it bad i'm hoping rufus and lily get together? oh wait! that would make serena and dan step-siblings! eeek! well, that's a predicament.

and that's my recap. i think there was an episode last night but my dvr didn't record it and it won't post to the cw's site till saturday. it was a sad night last night when there was no gg to watch. i guess you'll have to wait for that one right along with me.

i feel the tryptophan kicking in... happy thanksgiving!

you know you love me...

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

How the Hangman Lost His Heart by K.M. Grant

A few years ago I had the pleasure of hearing K.M. Grant speak at the Texas Library Conference. She was promoting her first book Blood Red Horse which I believe made the Lone Star List that year. She was an absolute hoot, a totally engaging public speaker. She was funny, had great stories, and her family history was wild to say the least. In particular she shared a story about one of her ancestors who had been hanged and beheaded. His head never buried with his body, but passed down from generation to generation and taken out at dinner parties as a conversation piece. It was side splitting. When they finally decide to dig up the ancestor's coffin and reunite his long seperated body and head, much to their surprise they discovered a second head! It's this outrageous bit of family history that she's used as the basis for her new book. Alice is distraught when her favorite uncle is declared a traitor, hanged, disembowled, and beheaded. His head displayed for all to see on a spike. Alice decides she'll never be able to live with herself if she doesn't reunite his head to be buried along with his body. And so the adventure begins.

How the Hangman Lost His Heart can only be described as a madcap romp. It's over the top silly and nonsensical and is just a whole bunch of fun. But for all that, it doesn't shy away for the gory details. A few quotes that made me giggle:

When describing Alice's aunt Ursula:
"To take her mind off her brother-in-law's execution, Ursula had been tying
pink-and-green ribbons in her bright yellow wig and the effect was, to say the
least, unfortunate."

When talking to Uncle Frank post-beheading:
"It felt odd to be addressing a disembodied head, but not as odd as she
thought it might."

When Dan the hangman addresses Grandma's refusal to pay for services rendered:
' "They do their job," said Dan, still unforgiving. "Do you know, sometimes
they're given oatmeal instead of silver as their pay?" He peered out the window
too. "And some of them don't even like oatmeal," he hissed very close to Alice's

I couldn't help thinking as I read that this would make a terrific movie. The writing was extremely visual and it would transfer easily into a slapstick type comedy. You could take dialogue verbatim from the book and it would be fantastic. It even comes complete with a bittersweet sweet romance. My one complaint is with the cover. Why did they change from the British cover? Its really cute and I personally find it more apealing.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Something Rotten: A Horatio Wilkes Mystery by Alan Gratz

There have been several retellings of Shakespeare lately, this is the third that I know of that has focused on Hamlet. I had heard some chatter about this one being a fun read and so I decided to check it out. I was immediately drawn in by the awesome cover art. I mean, it is just incredibly attractive. Definitely one of the best covers I’ve seen this year.

The story isn’t half bad either! As I seem to remember from the original Hamlet, it is Horatio that lives to tell the tale and it is Horatio that tells this tale as well. He lives in modern day Knoxville Tennessee where he attends a boarding school with Hamilton Prince (the Hamlet character). After Hamilton’s father dies suddenly the boys return to Hamilton’s hometown during their summer vacation to figure out what happened. Hamilton loses himself in drunkenness and erratic behavior, while Horatio, a more solid and reliable person digs deep to figure out the mystery.

The author stuck close to the story of Hamlet, but wasn’t afraid to branch out and change details which was much appreciated by this reader. I especially enjoyed the new twist on Olivia (Ophelia) and the river.

Occasionally the Shakespeare references seemed a little heavy handed. For instance, all of Horatio’s sisters are named after various heroines from Shakespeare. The town play that summer just happens to be Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. And the two characters in the book based on them even attend the play (although of course it is highly confusing for them). Horatio even states that, “Personally, I’m a little tired of every author without a bright idea of his own putting a modern spin on a ‘classic.’ ”

What made the story work is that Horatio is a witty guy, he’s got some terrific one liners, and the plot moves along at a good pace. Important, since this appears to be the first in a series of mysteries. I do wonder if Horatio will continue to reenact various Shakespeare plots or if this was just a starting point.

It would be fun to pair this with the original in an English Class, but would work just as well for teens who are only looking for a fun mystery to pass the time.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Before I Die by Jenny Downham


I finally finished Skin Hunger, by Kathleen Duey. It was one of the books nominated for the National Book Award and Patti reviewed it last month. I liked it as much as Patti did. I'm not a reader who will pick a fantasy book up without an introduction to it first. I'm a reluctant fantasy reader (don't even ask about sci-fi) so what I end up reading is usually very good. But this book is more entertaining than Cats. I will read it again and again. Seven stars! If you like to read books, and you like to eat bacon or other fried types of skin, Skin Hunger will keep you hungry for more. It will fill you up but won't let you down. Looking forward to the sequel about the enchanted sausage for sure.

I've been hacked! This is what I get for walking away and answering the phone.

Here's a question: how do you feel about fantasy books, taking place in other time make believe lands, having characters drop the F-Bomb? The author has the characters say/think shit quite a bit, which flustered me at first but then I got over it. When the F-Bomb popped up, it really surprised me. And I found a typo, which is always fun:

He was a violent man. Had be been a cruel boy?

On to the Main Event:

I admittedly didn't want to read it when the ARC was delivered to my library and even after talk surfaced about how amazing it is and how it is a shame that it's a "teen" novel. [note: If anyone can find that quote, I'd appreciate it.] I mean, really, "before I die"... how lame. And depressing. I wasn't in the mood to have my emotions manipulated so easily. Also, the publisher writes such a lusty introduction on how this book is "gold dust" and you must read it. Another turn off. But last night after I finished Skin Hunger I was, well, hungry, to read more and this was on my bookshelf.

I read this article in the NYT last month and looking at it now, I am completely taken back by the fact that the ONE passage I marked to quote here is the exact same one the reviewer quotes. As well as 7-IMP!! This is a wonderfully written novel. I read it all last night. I started at 10 and finished around 2. I didn't turn into a weeping pajama bag until Tessa had sex with Adam... and then it was every other chapter for the rest of the novel. This rarely happens with books for me. In fact, I'm trying to think of the last book I cried over and can't. I will also admit to you, dear reader, that last month I stayed up until 2 A.M. watching Beaches. I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed but would not turn the TV off. This book had the same effect. I had to get through it. I was wrecked and it felt good.

There's nothing new here storywise: sick girl dies. Downham's language is spot-on fantastic and it lifts the novel out of the realm of "one of those hideous book where the girl dies." This is most certainly a teen novel. Of course adults will like it, just like my girlfriends and I watched the adult drama Beaches over and over and over back in the day. No one is far from the mystery of death and the fact that your life will end. Your loved ones will go on and you will not. Unlike the car accident that she sees, Tessa has a little time. She is a perfect guide on this journey to "the edge" as she calls it. She'll haunt you like Liz and what a beautiful spirit she'll be.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Aya by Marguerite Abouet & Clement Oubrerie

Aya is my second selection from the PW list of Best Books. It takes place in Ivory Coast, Africa. Here's a map for the geographically challenged.

What I love about this story is that Aya, in many ways, is just another teen teetering on the brink of adulthood: she wants to go to university, she has party-loving girlfriends, and she has social, economic, and family constraints to overcome. Realistic teen girl GN fiction set in 1978 Africa. Educational and a terrific story.

In addition to this beautifully written and drawn story, we get something extra special called Ivorian Bonus. What's this? A fun glossary, instructions on wrapping a pagne skirt and how to roll my tassaba (cha-ching!). Plus recipes for gnamankoudji (a ginger beverage) and peanut sauce (with beef or chicken).

Our library catalogs this as adult, but I think teens would enjoy it.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Click: One Novel Ten Authors

Click is a novel with 10 chapters, where each chapter was written by a different author. The story begins with Maggie and Jason, two siblings who are in mourning for a beloved grandfather who has recently died. He has left behind gifts for them to open. These gifts will change the course of their lives.

Click struck me as sort of a cross between a novel and a short story collection. The chapters each build upon the previous chapters to expand on the basic story, but each chapter has its own feeling and style particular to the author. Some chapters are realistic fiction, while others veer off into science fiction. Some are more character driven and some are more adventurous. Some focus on Maggie and Jason, while others tell the story of their grandfather and the people he met while on photography assignments for Time or Life Magazine.

It's a total concept novel and I was very curious about if it would work - if the stories would fit together and flow. I think for the most part it did. There were a few transitions that were a bit jolting, where I really had to stop and reread to figure out what was going on, but for the most part I was able to follow along and get lost in the story. Inevitably, there are chapters that are stronger than others, chapters that are more emotionally charged, and some that were just more interesting than others. I was always curious about where the next author would take me, who they would focus on, where the story would take place, whether or not it would contain a totally unexpected twist. The ending for me was a bit anti-climatic, but on the whole I enjoyed it.

According to the cover, all royalties from the sale of Click will benefit Amnesty International. Although there is a brief history of the organization included, I couldn't find any mention of why it was decided to donate all the proceeds to them. That would have been a nice thing to include.

Listen to an NPR story on the novel complete with readings by Linda Sue Park and Ruth Ozeki

Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life by Bryan Lee O'Malley

A couple of weeks ago, Publisher's Weekly came out with their Best Books of the Year. I went and reserved as many of the GNs (or "comics" as PW calls them) as I could from the library. The first one I received was volume 1 of Bryan Lee O'Malley's Scott Pilgrim series.

Yeah! Now this is what I need! What a totally rockin', hilarious GN. I hooted and hollered and smiled from ear to ear almost the entire book. Judge this book by the cover - look at Scott's pose! Oh baby. Bring. It. On.

Scott, 23, plays bass in a band and is, for lack of a better description, a slacker. Scott has a dream about a mysterious roller blading girl... and sure enough she ends up being real. The real dream girl, Ramona, has 7 "evil ex-boyfriends" and if Scott wants to be with her he has to defeat them all. Ha! It reminded me of Cromartie High when it got to the fights and King Dork with all of the fantastic band stuff. (We even get the lyrics and chords for one song. Rad.)

There's no major cussing but there is a scene of Scott & Ramona in bed deciding, after all, not to have sex. We have it in our teen collection and I think it's a good fit. Preview some pages here.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Roger Sutton Reviews "The Spell Book of Listen Taylor" by Jaclyn Moriarty

And in the process says much of what I thought when I read it, albeit much more eloquently. I loved this book, but I really didn't the teen appeal.

"This is grown-up stuff. It’s not that teenage readers should be forbidden it, just that they’re unlikely to be interested. They will almost certainly be sympathetic to Listen’s problems, which do not involve romance but rather the situation of entering a new school and finding that your old friends want to leave you behind: “It’s just that we all agreed on this, O.K.? It’s no offense at all.” Oh, sure."

Read the New York Times Review. (link found via Read Roger)

Monday, November 12, 2007

TAYSHAS High School Reading List 2008-2009

The TAYSHAS list is a book list created for Texas High School students which reflect strong literary standards, recognizes the diversity of readers in Texas, offers a range of genres, recognizes values expressed in the Library Bill of Rights, has potential for teen pleasure reading, and considers various reading abilities.

It was a long, but incredibly enjoyable meeting this Saturday where we discussed the approximately 150 titles that were nominated for TAYSHAS and then voted it down to solid 60. Enjoy the list!!!

  • Alexie, Sherman - The Absolutely True Diarty of a Part-Time Indian
  • Anderson, Laurie Halse - Twisted
  • Barakat, Ibtisam - Tasting the Sky: A Palestinian Childhood
  • Beah, Ishmael - A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier
  • Bingham, Kelly - Shark Girl
  • Brooks, Kevin - Being
  • Caine, Rachel - Glass Houses: The Morganville Vampires, Bk 1
  • Caletti, Deb - The Nature of Jade
  • Brooks, Kevin - Being
  • Castelluci, Cecil - Beige
  • Castelluci, Cecil - The Plain Janes
  • Cole, Stephen - Thieves Like Us
  • Collison, Linda - Star-Crossed
  • Compestine, Ying Chang - Revolution is Not a Dinner Party
  • Cooney, Caroline B. - Enter Three Witches
  • Crutcher, Chris - Deadline
  • Davis, Deborah - Not Like You
  • DeVita, James - The Silenced
  • Ellsworth, Loretta - In Search of Mockingbird
  • Frost, Helen - The Braid
  • Fullerton, Alma - Walking on Glass
  • Hale, Marian - Dark Water Rising
  • Harazin, S.A. - Blood Brothers
  • Hoffman, Alice - Incantation
  • Jansen, Hanna - Over a Thousand Hills I Walk With You
  • Johnson, Harriet McBryde - Accidents of Nature
  • Johnson, Maureen - Devilish
  • Kantor, Melissa - The Breakup Bible
  • Klein, Lisa - Ophelia: A Novel
  • Laskas, Gretchen Moran - The Miner's Daughter
  • Leavitt, Martine - Keturah and Lord Death
  • Lewis, Richard - The Killing Sea
  • Lipsyte, Robert - Raider's Night
  • Lyga, Barry - The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl
  • Marr, Melissa - Wicked Lovely
  • McCarthy, Cormac - The Road
  • McClintock, Norah - Tell
  • McNeal, Laura & Tom - The Decoding of Lana Morris
  • Moore, Perry - Hero: A Novel
  • Morgenroth, Kate - Echo
  • Moriarty, Jaclyn - The Murder of Bindy Mackenzie
  • Na, An - Wait for Me
  • Newbery, Linda - Set in Stone
  • Pausewant, Gudrun - Dark Hours
  • Peet, Mal - Tamar
  • Picoult, Jodi - Nineteen Minutes
  • Rabb, Margo - Cures for Heartbreak
  • Resau, Laura - Red Glass
  • Ryan, Darlene - Saving Grace
  • Sandell, Lisa Ann - Song of the Sparrow
  • Sandell, Lisa Ann - The Weight of the Sky
  • Setterfield, Diane - The Thirteenth Tale
  • Shivack, Nadia - Inside Out: Portrait of an Eating Disorder
  • Smith, Cynthia Leitich - Tantalize
  • Sonnenblick, Jordan - Notes From the Midnight Driver
  • Tharp, Tim - Knights of the Hill Country
  • Volponi, Paul - Rucker Park Setup
  • Vrettos, Adrienne Maria - Skin
  • Yeomans, Ellen - Rubber Houses
  • Zarr, Sara - Story of a Girl
  • Zevin, Gabrielle - Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac

For the annotated list please visit TLA's Website.

Texas Lone Star Reading List

After using all of my reading time as an excuse for not blogging, here's the long awaited 2008-2009 Lone Star Reading List:

Berryhill, Shane. Chance Fortune and the Outlaws.
Bryant, Jen. Pieces of Georgia: A Novel.
Flinn, Alex. Beastly.
Hale, Marian. Dark Water Rising.
Halls, Kelly Milner. Tales of the Cryptids: Mysterious Creatures That May or May Not Exist.
Harper, Suzanne. The Secret Life of Sparrow Delaney.
Haydon, Elizabeth. The Floating Island: The Lost Journals of Ven Polypheme.
Holm, Jennifer L. Middle School is Worse than Meatloaf: A Year Told Through Stuff.
Korman, Gordon. Schooled.
Kostick, Conor. Epic.
Lurie, April. Brothers, Boyfriends, & Other Criminal Minds.
McNish, Cliff. Breathe: A Ghost Story.
Resau, Laura. What the Moon Saw: A Novel.
Salisbury, Graham. Night of the Howling Dogs.
Schmidt, Gary D. The Wednesday Wars.
Scott, Michael. Alchemyst: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel.
Smith, Roland. Peak.
Sonnenblick, Jordan. Zen and the Art of Faking It.
Stead, Rebecca. First Light. Wendy Lamb, 2007.
Stewart, Trenton Lee. The Mysterious Benedict Society.
For the annotated list, check the website:

Oops...Wrong Cookie has already reviewed The Secret Life of Sparrow Delaney, Middle School is Worse than Meatloaf, Epic and Beastly. I'll try to review some of my other favorites!

Breathe: a ghost story by Cliff McNish

Jack and his mom move into a new (old) house to escape the memories of Jack’s recently deceased father. Jack has two things that are special about him; he has asthma and he can glimpse pieces of the past by touching objects. On Jack’s first night in the new house he wakes up unable to breathe with a ghost woman practically on top of him about to kiss him. She is even more surprised (and then delighted) than Jack that he can see and speak with her. She calls herself the Ghost Mother and since she lost her daughter over a century before she is more than eager to smother her new found son with motherly love. Jack has to find a way to rescue his mother, himself, and the other ghost children the Ghost Mother has trapped in the house before it’s too late for them all…

This book was SOOOOOO scary! Seriously, the Ghost Mother became chillingly evil and scary. This book brought new meaning to the line- death is a release, not a punishment. Unless of course, someone manages to capture your soul and feed off it bit by bit for decades finally forcing you into eternal torment. Wow. What a concept. Great character development, plot. I'm shivering right now thinking about the Ghost Mother. Very well done.

What the Moon Saw by Laura Resau

This book is by the same author as Red Glass which Patti blooged about several months ago (I still haven’t had a chance to read that one yet).

Clara’s father was an illegal immigrant from Mexico when he came to the U.S. over twenty years ago. She has never met or even talked to her grandparents on her father’s side. Sometimes she is ashamed of her cultural heritage and how her father entered the U.S. One long summer night she has a dream that something more is calling to her, but she can’t seem to find it. The next day she receives a letter from her Mexican grandparents asking her to come for a two month visit. At first she doesn’t want to go, but then realizes this may be what has been calling to her all along.

The setting and the descriptions of rural Mexico were so real I could taste them! Beautiful, beautiful imagery! It made me want to go live in a hut all summer- when in reality I don't even like camping!! And I loved Clara's character development. She really grew and discovered what it is to be something more than you are and about what's important in life. I loved the Grandmother's stories too. Very inspiring- almost folk tale like (definite magical realism going on). Loved it, loved it, loved it!

First Light by Rebecca Stead

This modern fantasy is told in two alternating voices. Peter’s father is a glaciologist who just received a research grant to gather data on Greenland’s glaciers to observe the effects of global warming. And this time there’s enough money to take Peter and his mother along for the ride. When they get to Greenland though, both his mother and his father seem to be looking for something important, something that they aren’t telling him about.

Thea lives in an underground colony beneath the ice. No one has gone above world or has even known where the tunnel leading to the surface is for centuries. Or so she thinks until she finds a mysterious map in her belongings after a family feast day.

Fate brings Thea and Peter together as they each discover a new world and reveal the mysterious histories of their own families.

This book shares many similarities with The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean, but this is the much lighter, happier read of the two. The characters were very well done and so was the magical ice underworld!!!

Friday, November 9, 2007

Buffy Season 8 - Volume 1. The Long Way Home by Joss Whedon

I’m a big Buffy fan. Although not someone you could call a fanatic. I do own the DVDs, I don’t own other merchandise. You won’t catch me saying things like “Buffyverse” or “Scoobies” and I don’t read any fan fiction (although I would assume it exists and is thriving…just seems like it would be). Nevertheless, I was really excited about the Buffy comic books coming out even though I was a little unsure about how it would work. Buffy, after all, was in large part so great because of the incredible casting and the ensemble cast and I didn’t know if that would transfer to another format. Another reservation was that the last season of Buffy was my least favorite of them all. I found the new slayers annoying and would have much preferred it just be the original group. With cameos by beloved characters that were no longer on the show. Sure the series finale was fantastic, but wouldn’t it have been even more fantastic with Oz? So, in short, I wasn’t sure the continuation of a story line (as in the 1000s of slayers) I didn’t really enjoy in the first place would even interest me.

To give you fair warning there will be ***SPOILERS*** so stop reading if you don’t want to be spoiled. That’s right spoiled. Turn away now. Consider yourself warned!

I was pleasantly surprised. I still think the legions of slayers are distracting and I can’t remember who is who (nor do I even really care too), but I was drawn into the last story of one of the decoy slayers. I liked her, I loved her story, and to my utter astonishment actually wanted more. I hope we get a continuation of her story…although I fear she’s dead. We’ll have to wait and see.

The main storyline really felt as though it was an episode or two of Buffy. It starts off with the death of some sort of monster/demon which leads to the discovery of a strange symbol we know will play a large part in the rest of the story arc. Dawn has been turned into a giant, possibly for attention. There is a military organization, seemingly not connected to the Initiative that wants to take Buffy and her legion of slayers down. And then there is the reintroduction of several characters. Ethan Rayne shows Buffy around the “dreamverse.” Amy the rat/witch magically survived the destruction of Sunnydale and is wickedly angry and out to get her revenge along with her new boyfriend. Who, get this, just happens to be skinless Warren!?! Turns out Amy was watching in the shadows when Willow went crazy and flayed him. She protected Warren with magic so he didn’t die and then apparently got it on with him. He looks suitably gruesome.

And of course there is the introduction of a new love plot. Someone secretly loves Buffy. It’s either Willow, Xander, or one of the several new slayers who happened to be in the room. My hope is on Xander just ‘cause that would make it wonderfully complicated and perfect for the never allowed to be happy in love world of Buffy.

Finally, I really enjoyed the artwork in the comic book. I like that the drawn characters look so much like their actor counterparts. It helped me buy into the story.

From what I can see next up is Faith. I’m really looking forward to that!

I just read that Whedon’s now going to be continuing the stories not only of Angel, but also of Serenity in comic book format. Let’s hope he doesn’t get too many irons in the fire like he did when he was shooting TV shows.

See a preview from Dark Horse Comics.

Oh Onion, How I love you so...

From The Onion:

R.L. Stine Reveals Slappy From Night Of The Living Dummy Was Gay

"Slappy's constant attempts to break out of the closet that Amy stores him in at night clearly represent his struggle with homosexuality..."

To read the entire article:

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Texas Book Festival

Here's a picture of the authors at the YA evening event called Not for Required Reading last Saturday, November 3, as part of the Texas Book Festival.
R-L: Jacques Couvillon, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Perry Moore, Neal Shusterman, April Lurie, Adrienne Kress, Brian Yansky, & Sherman Alexie.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Your Own, Sylvia by Stephanie Hemphill

I really should have thought more about what reading this book would mean, but I was very curious and I love a good novel in verse. The problem is, my friends, that it’s a bummer. I’m sure you’re thinking, “Well DUH, Joanna. S-Y-L-V-I-A P-L-A-T-H. Not synonymous with F-U-N.” I was not thinking, okay. I will say it is a remarkable book. In many ways, it is a book not to be missed this year.

I knew next to nothing about
Sylvia Plath. I know I read her poems in English classes. I never read The Bell Jar. I knew a bit about her tragic life. I have no objection to reading her. I just never got around to it. (I felt this was a pretty good thing going in so that I could potentially be on par knowledge-wise with a teen reader.) I understand the appeal to teens to read Plath. She had a volcanic, talented life that ended early and tragically. She was not a woman of her times and a powerful writer. While her writing (poems, letters, novel and journals) exposed much of her life, more of it remains a mystery as her husband’s estate withholds it from the public.

Stephanie Hemphill's book is "a verse portrait of Sylvia Plath". The project itself is a fantastic undertaking: writing Plath's life in verse in the voices of the people from her life. Plath wrote obsessively, so there is plenty of fuel for Hemphill. She also crafts poems based on poems that Plath wrote. I found that fascinating. And there are footnotes! Footnotes after every single poem!

But here's the kick. I don't see much teen appeal for the whole project. I enjoyed the book very much, but I did get tired. Most of the book is Plath's adult life and, well, adult problems do not necessarily equal appeal for a younger audience. Even gorgeous & sassy suicidal geniuses can wear on the interest. The footnotes are lovely, but they can be cumbersome in their detail. If a teen were to need a book on Sylvia Plath for an English assignment, I would easily suggest this book as a starting point. Actually, it would be a great resource to have while reading Plath's poetry since Hemphill wonderfully offers insight into her poems. Teens who are serious about poetry will find this an excellent book on the construction of poetry in addition to the biographical information. Teens who like novels in verse could like it, if, say, they also watch PBS/BBC documentaries with rapt adoration for intricate detail. This is an intense book. While I applaud the authors beautiful work, it is not something I feel will click with most teens.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Earthboy Jacobus by Doug TenNapel

I really can't stress it enough: people need to read graphic novels. I am especially fond of the single volume stories, like this one I picked up after the resident GN reader at my library told me how much he loved it. Earthboy Jacobus is by Doug TenNapel who is also the author of Tommysaurus Rex. I really didn't have any doubt that it would be something special. Special by way of bizarre, fantastical, heroic and heartwarming. I mean, look at that huge American flag. Heroic, y'all. Heroic.

We start off with Chief, who is Chief of Police for a police department in California. He's retiring and he's the type of ex-Marine, live-the-job guy you know won't survive long without having his job to go to. The day after his retirement (or so) he's off for a midnight run for fast food when his car hits a huge whale. Yes, I wrote "whale". Inside the whale is a boy, our boy, Jacobus.

Chief takes Jacobus home and it is immediately recognizable that Chief already loves Jacobus as a son. It is also immediately known that Jacobus is being hunted by creatures from his parallel universe. And thus we have our story: why are these creatures hunting Jacobus and how can he & Chief survive them.

Chief puts Jacobus through is own Marine boot camp to teach him how to fight. I never thought war training could be so loving. The story jumps a few years into the future and Jake and Chief are finally discovered and taken back to the universe Jacobus fled. We jump another chunk of time in this world before the story wraps up. So Jacobus is an adult, albeit a 20-something, when the story ends.

The art is in black ink and it lends well to the raw feeling of Jacobus on his quest. I did find it difficult to keep track of who is who in the parallel universe, but the story itself is not difficult to follow. This is a GN for teens. There's some cussing (dick, among others) and nekkidness (Jacobus butt!) and a panel of two naughty adults in a semi-embrace in bed (he topless, she in a bra). This is a great addition for a library's collection.

I'd also like to mention how much I love the name Jacobus. You know, if anyone is looking for boy name ideas. Just sayin'.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Revisiting a Classic - The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

I'm a little embarrassed to admit it, but in the over five years of being a teen services librarian I had never read The Chocolate War. In fact, I don't know that I've read many of the classics. I seem to just want to read new publications because that is what my patrons are drawn to. The new book section is the favorite most frequently used (excluding DVDs of course) part of my library. I was just looking for an audio book to listen to one day and stumbled across this title and figured, hey, why not, I should give it a chance.

I'm glad I did. I ended up really enjoying it. The reading was done by Frank Muller and was absolutely fabulous. He did voices for all the characters that were in turn threatening, reluctant, imposing, and defeated. I found Brother Leon in particular to be extremely frightening.

What surprised me the most about The Chocolate War was the ending. I'll assume that no one cares about spoilers - if you do please stop reading. The ending was so...not uplifting. The villains of the story never get their comeuppance. They aren't punished, they don't lose, they aren't even mildly publicly humiliated. It was very strange. It was so disappointing to me, but at the same time felt so true I couldn't be too disappointed about it. I felt very conflicted. I desperately wanted Jerry to get his revenge. I really wanted Archie to pick the black ball out of the Vigil box and to have to enter the ring against Jerry. And of course, neither of these things happen. Jerry gets beaten so badly we are left wondering how long his recovery time will be and if there will be permanent damage. Archie is still secure in his position of Vigil leader and creator of dastardly plans. He seems unstoppable. I wonder if this is why I've heard so many people complain about this book. The ending is a downer, it smacks of real life and so many of us just want to read for escape.

I had some deja vu about the black box. I could have sworn I read a book where the same device was used. Except in my memory the kid did not have Archie's luck. It makes me think I actually read this book, forgot about it, and then mixed it all up in my memory.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Eggs by Jerry Spinelli

Okay, I promised to blog this one since I couldn't come to the Book Exchange.

David is nine years old and has already lost his mother; even better, he must suffer through his grandmother's attempts to make it up to him. Since his mother's death, he has decided to not make friends, to be mean to his grandmother, and to never, ever see the sunrise. But when he discovers a strange girl hiding in the leaves at an Easter egg hunt, he is intrigued, thinking her a corpse.

Primrose, 13, has problems of her own, including a barely functioning mother who sells her services as a psychic and a non-existent father whom she is determined to love above all others. Primrose is just what David needs to "come out of his shell" and David teaches Primrose the value of friendship and treasuring the family you have.

Now the cover may seem a bit contrived, but Spinelli does a good job using the egg motif throughout the book. It actually works without getting tiresome. This book would be great for tweens (and even teens) who have lost a family member recently. As always, Spinelli gives children the full range of human emotion and character and does not talk down at them.