Friday, December 24, 2010

Second Impressions: Mock Printz Edition

One of the things I most appreciate about doing Mock Newberys and Mock Printzs is the chance to go back and re-read books. The first time you read something you have a reaction that you base your opinion on, but I find that when I re-read something I'm less dependent on my mood and whatever else was influencing my reading experience. On the re-read you really see more of the style and quality of the book while also seeing what the author hoped to accomplish much clearer. Having said that I sometimes find I love a book more and I sometimes find a book falls apart because the momentum is gone.

I just finished re-reading two of our Mock Printz books and I think my opinions have shifted some on both of them...and in different directions.

I found You to be even more impressive. The writing really held up and I think I appreciated the story more. The foreshadowing is so incredibly evident, more so when you already know how it ends, but that actually let me see the way the pieces of the story fit together. And they fit together incredibly well. I found the second person narrative less jarring this time around. I found Kyle to be an even sadder person. I still loved the themes of personal responsibility and I still wonder if Zack isn't too much of a evil genius. Spoiler --> that final scene he's practically rubbing his fingers together like Mr. Burns. Spell it out for me Scooby Doo bad guy! But at the same time I liked the interplay between him and Kyle. But! BUT! He took Kyle's job, his girl, and got his locker searched for drugs? Why the triple whammy? Wouldn't one have been enough? Too much I think. <--end of spoilers.

As for Nothing I think I was less impressed. The kids are 13 or 14 ish, but the girl who is writing it sounds far too young. I kept having to remind myself that our narrator isn't 9. It jarred me out of the story more than once. And the way she would use words to illustrate her opinion irritated me. "Dark. Darker. Afraid of the Dark." I didn't find that it added anything to the story except to make our narrator sound even younger. Perhaps that was the point? And if it was, why?

I found the story to hold up on the suspense and the slow building of the most grotesque conclusion in any teen book I've ever read. Which serves to make me very divided on this book. One the one hand I think the story is handled masterfully, the single lines on the end/beginnings of chapters was hands down brilliant. Had the lines been tacked onto the end/beginning of a paragraph they would have lost their power. It was the single line on a blank page that really drove the point home. "She shouldn't have done that." Gah! Seriously Frickin' OMINOUS!

This book is perverse and grotesque and true about human nature in a way that is unflinching and painful. This is not a happy ending (ha!) but it was an ending which, I think, was the point of the story and it was done for more than simple shock value. So thumbs up on that. Thumbs down on the weird narrative quirks.

Book Source = both Library Copies

Sunday, December 19, 2010

2011 Mock Newbery Results

Around 16 people gathered to join in on our 3rd Mock Newbery Discussion. I liked so many of our mock books and didn't have a clear favorite that I think I enjoyed this year's discussion even more than last year's.

Our Winner:
One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

Honor Books:
Only One Year by Andrea Cheng
The War to End all Wars by Russell Freedman
The Water Seeker by Kimberly Willis Holt

We ended up picking three honor books because the number of votes they got were so much higher than any of the other books. Poor Night Fairy, it only had one person vote for it (and that was me. ahem.) so when we did our second vote for honor books it was one that got removed. The other books that were removed were Farm, Keeper, and Sit In.

No one seemed too bothered by my major complaint against The War to End all Wars, which was that the author would be talking about Canadians or Australians and then mention British casualties. Which is plain *weird* if you ask me (and maybe a little offensive to people who live in those countries because they have national identities despite being part of a commonwealth). Anyhow, the discussion raised my opinion of the book, strange lumping of commonwealths aside, and in the honor vote I ended up voting for it. In my 3rd place spot, of course. heh.

The most interesting thing to me was that Water Seeker got an honor despite the fact that people seriously questioned whether it was a book for children. I am still pondering that and for the record, that is why I didn't vote for it. Loved the book, but a book about the journey to manhood as told by adult women? Also it was the only one I didn't have time to reread and that probably hurt it in my view only because it wasn't fresh in my mind.

Anyhow, it was a great discussion and I am seriously excited about our Mock Printz in two weeks.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

2011 Mock Caldecott Results

Here are the results of the 1st Mock Caldecott. Nice job, committee.

The APL Mock Caldecott winner:

A Sick Day for Amos McGee. By Philip C. Stead, illustrated by Erin E. Stead

Two Honor Books:

Mama Miti: Wangari Maathai and the Tree of Kenya. By Donna Jo Napoli, illustrated by Kadie Nelson

Henry in Love. By Peter McCarty

Full list of nominees from the website.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

2010 Favorites

So with all my reading for our Mock events, I highly doubt I'll read anything else this year. Another thing is that I read a lot less this year...a lot less. I was way more interested in sewing and I just seemed to have other things going on that took up my time. Regardless, here are my favorite books that were published in 2010. They are not in any particular order and I am probably missing a ton since I didn't keep a list of every book I read this year (Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.).

Picture Books:

A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead, illus. by Erin E. Stead
Oh Daddy by Bob Shea
The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers

Children Books:
The Night Fairy by Laura Amy Schlitz
One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

Teen Books:
Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi
Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness
Nothing by Janne Teller
Fever Crumb by Philip Reeve
You by Charles Benoit
As Easy As Falling off the Face of the Earth by Lynne Rae Perkins
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
Hold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride
Star Crossed by Elizabeth C. Bunce
A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner

Adult Books:
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde

I can't help but feel this is missing something... oh well!

Monday, December 6, 2010

I Can Die Now...But Not Before I get to Read it

So when I reviewed Ship Breaker way back when, the last thing I said was that I would love to know more about Tool.

Well, Mr. Bacigalupi must have been listening. From A Chair, A Fireplace, and a Teacozy:

Liz B: What are you working on now? And if it’s not a sequel to SHIP BREAKER, can we hope for a sequel? What if I promise you chocolate for a sequel?

Paolo: LOL. Well, it depends what kind of chocolate we’re talking about. In all seriousness, it’s more of a companion novel rather than a sequel. It’s set in the same world, but Tool is the only character who overlaps, and the thematic focus is very different. The story is set in a place called the Drowned Cities, and focuses on a sister and brother pair who have been orphaned by war. At least, that’s what I think it’s about. We’ll see if it’s still about that when I reach the end.

Looking forward to it!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Only One Year by Andrea Cheng

Reviewed back in June by Alison.

I had to read this one twice before I could really get a feel for it. It is deceptively simple and I think the quality of writing could be easily passed by because it is written so plainly and is so straightforward in its presentation. That would be a shame, because this is a book with incredible depth.

What I thought was so wonderfully done is how the family, the young sisters especially, dealt with the year that their 2 year old brother spent in china with his extended family. At first the girls are almost inconsolable, their hearts are heavy with the loss, but they gradually learn to live without their brother and the pain becomes easier to bear. I really appreciated witnessing the reintegration of their brother back into their family and how that brought new pains.

I appreciated the juxtaposition of cultures between Sharon's family and her best friend Isabelle. Really you should just read Alison's review because it says everything I want to say.

This is an absolutely lovely book.


For those who are keeping track, I'm reading this for our Mock Newbery.
Other titles in this series:

The Red Umbrella by Christina Diaz Gonzalez
Farm by Elisha Cooper
Keeper by Kathy Appelt
The Night Fairy by Laura Amy Schlitz
One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams Garcia

Book Source = Library Copy

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Red Umbrella by Christina Diaz Gonzalez

I read this title awhile ago and have been really thinking about what I wanted to write about it or whether or not I wanted to post anything at all. I came down on the side of posting really just so that I would have something written down when we meet for our Mock Newbery in a few weeks.

I think part of my problem is that I read this in the midst of the other Mock books and it didn't fare well when I compared it to the other titles. It lacked the conciseness of The Night Fairy, the characterization of One Crazy Summer, and the lyricism and rhythm of Keeper. In short, I didn't find it as polished, nor did I find the writing as distinguished. I will say I enjoyed it and had I read it for another purpose I may have actually enjoyed it more.

One thing I do question is the use of headlines taken from real newspapers. We only get the headline, no excerpt from the article. I wasn't sure what purpose this served or what it lent to the story. I assume the intent was to inform the reader as to what people were saying about Castro and Cuba, but what should the reader get out of a headline that reads, "Castro Denounces U.S., Roars Defiance of OAS." or "Crime to Have Foreign Money in Cuba Now." or "The Red Plot Confirmed." Headlines are created to be dramatic and attention getting, shocking, even (as the one comparing Castro to Hitler was no doubt supposed to be). But they seem to be randomly placed I don't think they added any extra value or historical information. I certainly couldn't see a tie into the ensuing chapter. Honestly, it just seemed to me as though the author had a particular agenda (Castro = bad) and wanted to back it up somehow. I think her story was enough without the headlines.

I enjoyed reading about a program I was not previously aware where Cuban parents had sent their children in the US. It is a part of US history that I was not aware of.


For those who are keeping track, I'm reading this for our Mock Newbery.
Other titles in this series:

Farm by Elisha Cooper
Keeper by Kathy Appelt
The Night Fairy by Laura Amy Schlitz
One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams Garcia

Book Source = Library Copy

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

I've been on a Sarah Waters kick ever since I picked up a couple of her books at a booksale. First I read Fingersmith, which was perfection. Next I picked up The Little Stranger, and although these are set in very different time periods (Victorian England versus Post WWII England) I can see that she has a distinct writing style. She's very descriptive, she keeps us a bit distant from her characters, and she infuses her books with foreboding and a constant creeping sense of dread. Bad things are coming people! BAD THINGS!!!

The Little Stranger introduces us to an upper class family who has fallen on hard times, their estate is literally crumbling down around them. Enter a country doctor who manages to insert himself into their daily life. The book is told from his perspective as he becomes friendly with the family and witnesses their complete disintegration.

From his point of view they are suffering from hysteria or mental illness as one by one they succumb to the belief that there is something evil in the house that wants to hurt them. We are never sure whether or not this is really true. Faraday, the doctor, does not seem to be the most reliable narrator. From the beginning, I really disliked him. It seemed distasteful to me how he insinuated himself into the family, I was never sure whether or not I trusted him. Did he just want to jump into a higher class? Or did he genuinely care for them? He was complex enough that I think either could be true, or both, and the author certainly never clears it up for us. But by the end of the book I was thoroughly disgusted with him and I hoped the house did him in too (spoiler: sadly it did not).

What the author did so well was create atmosphere and tension so thick that the reader is pretty much foaming at the mouth at the end wanting to know what it was. And perhaps wisely, we don't find out. during the last tragedy the character clearly recognizes the guilty party (be it ghost, poltergeist, or live person) but the reader is never privy to who/what it actually is. This frustrated the heck out of me because I WANTED TO KNOW!!!! DESPERATELY!!!

The book is excellent despite this, but note to the author: next time, just tell us. I hoped and hoped it would be the doctor and then all my disgust and animosity would be rewarded because he was the culprit and clearly it was ok to hate him. As it is, now I just have all this anger at him and I'm not sure it is deserved. Very unsettling, Ms. Waters, very unsettling.

Book Source: Personal Copy

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Farm by Elisha Cooper

I think it would be hard for anyone to open this book and not be blown away by the art. It is stunning. Unfortunately, one can't consider the art for the Newbery, which if my suspicions are correct that would be precisely why the committee must have chosen this book. You know, to challenge us and stretch our minds and all that jazz.

It was really hard to read this book and not be distracted by the art. However, I expended much effort in order to do so. I found the language to be soothing and evocative (the dirt pops, the clouds bump across the sky) and I heard the practical nature of a farmer often in sentences like, "weather can't be fixed" and how the animals on the farm are described. No anthropomorphism here.

I found the text to be distinguished. It was methodical, but beautiful nonetheless. We begin with an introduction of a farm's important parts. The sum of those parts make the farm (which is presented with small pictures and then a large spread of the farm. which I am totally ignoring at this point. ahem.). Weather is discussed, the work, the small town living, the change of the seasons and how important they are.

Could this text exist without the support of the art? Probably. Would it be as powerful? Not a chance. For me the text and the imagery are totally complementary and almost inseparable. Well, ok, you could seperate them, but why why why would you ever want to? Those pictures, the watercolor and pencil, they are the perfect balance between dreamy and unfocused and somehow still representative and realistic. They are perfection.

So as much as I love this book, I think it is better suited to a Caldecott than a Newbery.

Visit the Farm
on Seven Imp.


For those who are keeping track, I'm reading this for our Mock Newbery.
Other titles in this series:

Keeper by Kathy Appelt
The Night Fairy by Laura Amy Schlitz
One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams Garcia

Book Source = Library Copy

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Night Fairy by Laura Amy Schlitz

Alison reviewed this one way on back in March. It must have stayed with her because it ended up on our Mock Newbery discussion list. I think I remember her saying that her eight year old self would have loved it, and that just about sums it up for me (although my 30ish year old self loves it plenty too).

None of the appeal, for me anyway, has to do with Flory being a fairy. Neither my childhood self nor my adult one ever cared for fairies. I was very much an adventure seeker in my books and this one delivers a heroine who is prickly and not all that nice, but who is resourceful and smart and willing to meet challenges more than head on.

Alison also mentioned an economy of language in this book and I think that is a really good way of summing up the writing. It is deceptively simple and is more powerful because of it. It also struck me as one that would be excellent to read aloud. It has a flow that comes from true craftsmanship. And that is really a point I want to make, this book wasn't just written it was crafted.

It will be very interesting discussing this and One Crazy Summer. Both so well written and so incredibly different from each other. Can't wait!

Book Source = Library Copy

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin by Josh Berk

Will Halpin has decided to leave his deaf school and attend the local high school. It is a hard transition, but when one of his classmates is killed during a field trip to a coal mine, he and his friends may be the only possibility of finding the killer.

I loved this book! Will's voice is funny and refreshing. I do love a smart protagonist with loads of wit and sarcasm! And while Devon is definitely dorky, he is also both believable and charming. Berk even makes the school bullies more than just one-dimensional characters.

As for the mystery, it's quite entertaining. I didn't figure it out too quickly and it is realistic and well-paced. Will and Devon end up uncovering several mysteries while just trying to solve this one!

Love the references to Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and Sherlock Holmes. They were tastifully used and not overbearing. The use of technology was also well-done.

I had heard about some of the deaf community issues that were brought up in the story, but it was nice to have those fleshed out a little and described by a character I really liked and understood. I brushed up on some sign language,too. Kind of made me want to learn more...

My one complaint is the cover. Seriously, no teen I know is going to want to pick this up on their own. Which is unfortunate, since they would likely enjoy it. Wish the designers would really think about these things.

As for read-alikes, definitely reminded me of Slob, King Dork and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. So, if you liked those, check this one out!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

In the Austin Area? Join in on our Mock Sessions

All the information is on the Austin Public Library's website. We'll be hosting a Mock Caldecott, Mock Newbery, and a Mock Printz.

This will be the first year for our Caldecott discussion, our third year for Newbery and the second for Printz.

It is a great time. Hope you can join us!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Matched by Ally Condie

In Cassia's world, the Society makes every decision for you, from what you eat to who you marry. When her match contains a surprising mistake, Cassia begins on a journey that will lead her to question everything about her life, including herself.

Okay, I see why people really love this book. The world-building is intriguing and well-imagined; the ethics very blurry. Nothing is truely what it seems, nor is anything black and white/good or evil. Cassia herself is both likeable and irritating at turns. And the boys, even moreso.

I especially liked how the romance was handled in the story. Cassia loves them both; she really is torn for most of the book. And the relationships change in a believable manner, over months and due to time spent together and things learned, just as real romances do. Cassia becomes an adult, in a way that many of the adults around her never do.

Even the side characters are well-drawn and believable. Gavin, her Grandfather, her parents, they all seemed very real and very stuck in the world they live in. Even when they make the "right" decisions (as if they really get to make any) things can take an awful turn.

I'll be thinking about this story for some time. And while I do see the similarities others have mentioned to The Giver and A Wrinkle in Time, I don't necessarily think that is a bad thing...

Monday, October 25, 2010

Star Crossed by Elizabeth C. Bunce

I was not going to read this book because of its lackluster cover (I am slightly pained to say that since I feel like I should be above it but let's face it ya'll, I'm totally not). Then I read Bookshelves of Doom's review and thought that it sounded awesome. And so now when I look at the cover I think, you know, it really isn't all that bad, just a bit blah. Which is a shame because this is such a fantastic book that I'm mortified that I almost missed it.

It features Digger, a thief who ingratiates herself with a noble family while hiding her true identity (she's a pickpocket! I have a soft spot for pickpockets, but only in stories in real life they suck) and they invite her to winter with them at their remote castle. She's thinking this is pretty fabulous as it gets her outta dodge and she'll get to rob some heavily lined pockets to boot. Only someone there knows her secret and is blackmailing her to spy on her hosts. Which is problematic, as she's starting to really like them.

There is a pretty intense political system that the author has created and it took awhile for me to understand it all, but that really might have been the wine I was drinking... In a nutshell this is a world where magic is illegal and there is an inquisition (A freakin' Inquisition!!!). There are two potential heirs and there is a rebellion brewing. Digger lands herself in the middle of all of it.

Bookshelves of doom mentioned that fans of Megan Whalen Turner would like this book. I agree wholeheartedly. I would add fans of Graceling as Digger is a phenomenally strong and interesting female protagonist.

There is action, there is a really great plot, the characters are interesting and varied, there is the potential for hot steamy romance which the author wisely chose to leave for the sequel, which for the record, I am dying to read.

Yes, you could say that I am very enthusiastic about this book.

Book Source = Publisher review copy

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Cate of the Lost Colony by Lisa Klein

As a reader, I’m always inclined to head towards the science fiction books, so much so that that I am continually surprised by how much I like historical fiction. I really enjoyed Cate of the Lost Colony and read it pretty much straight through. That’s not to say I didn’t have some issues with it, but I thought the story and the writing was compelling enough that I forgave them.

The story begins with Cate as a lady in waiting to Queen Elizabeth, (who is portrayed as a rather overbearing and vain queen). Cate runs afoul of her and is sent as punishment to the colony on Roanoke Island in Virginia in 1587.

The thing to remember is that Cate isn’t an actual historical figure (the author note informs us of this), it doesn’t really matter, but I was sad that the whole set up of why Cate was sent to Virginia was completely fictional. I guess that gives the author the ability to create a character and infuse her with all the characteristics that she needs to have the story flow, but even so I was disappointed. There is a love affair that I would have relished more if it had been real (although her love interest was sort of a self-absorbed ass) and Cate is just such an interesting character that it bummed me out that she never actually existed. I mean, who wouldn’t fall in love with a female colonist that learned the language of the locals?!

Klein also invents a happy ending for the colonists (as happy as an ending can be for the survivors of starvation, attacks, sickness, general despair, etc). As their true ending is one of the great mysteries of colonial America I thought that speculating on the part of the author was fine. I even enjoyed the turn their life took and found much of it to be quite believable.

On a whole (and added to last year’s awesome Written in Bone) I’m sort of frothing at the mouth to read more about colonial America.

Book Source = Review Copy

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Sweet Valley Update

So, here is the newly revealed cover art for the upcoming Sweet Valley Confidential: Ten Years Later by Francine Pascal. The book is scheduled for release on March 29, 2011.

I read an excerpt from the first chapter, and it was okay. Despite that, I remain intrigued and I will be checking it out or buying it in March. I need to know.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

So...Like...I haven't been reading all that much

It is confession time. I haven't really been reading too much or at least I've been reading more adult fiction than teen (although I may have to give up on The Passage...). Frankly, I've just been more interested in sewing. So! I thought I would share my favorite project. I made a robot costume for my little dude. Cute, no?


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Enchanted Ivy by Sarah Beth Durst

Lily loves Princeton. Her Grandfather went there, her father went there, it has been a part of her life since she was born. So when she's presented a challenge by a secret society to find a special key, she accepts. The prize, after all, is guaranteed admission to the school.

This was a fun book. Gargoyles that talk, a stone dragon, a secret gateway into another world, not to mention all those dark family secrets that Lily stumbles onto.

I must admit I spent a good part of the book yelling, "your [name removed] is eeeeeeeevil! Why can't you see?!" But I'm not going to tell you if I'm right or not. Just that the suspicion was definitely there.

Spoilers=== I really liked the parallels between the magic creatures who fed off of humans and the knights who fed off the magic creature. And I was also referring to the grandfather being eeeeeeevil. I'm not sure I bought his redemption at the end. I prefer to think of him as baddun. But, you know, maybe I'll get over it someday. ====end of spoilers

Book Source: Review copy from publisher

Sunday, October 10, 2010

What I've Been Reading

Been awhile since I did a post. I have been furiously reading for the Lone Star Committee, the Texas Library Association reading list for middle schoolers. And of course, I had to read Mockingjay when it came out.

Anyway, here are a few of the really good books I have read recently...

The Boneshaker by Kate Milford
The town of Arcane, Missouri sits near a crossroads where strange things are known to happen and the Devil is said to walk. When a creepy medicine show comes to town, it's up to thirteen-year-old Natalie to save not just her family but the whole town. Reminiscent of Bradbury, Sterling, and King, the Boneshaker conjures a world of wonder, evil, and great strength. Natalie is a great protagonist and Milford weaves a dark mystery that is not quickly or easily resolved. It's really hard to believe that this is her first book!

I really liked the characters, especially the supporting ones. Old Tom is fascinating; at first he seems one dimensional, but as you read the story, he becomes more than you expected. Even Natalie's parents and friends (except maybe the boys) develop and change. The "villain" turns out to be much more nuanced than just a con artist or evil person who consorts with demons; you eventually discover that even he has reasonable motivations and desires.

Countdown by Deborah Wiles
In the Fall of 1962, in the midst of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Franny Chapman struggles to understand herself, her family and friends, and the whole crazy world.

The main buzz on this books seems to be about the pictures and nonfiction bits scattered throughout. Some people have found it distracting; some love the integration of information. I myself really enjoyed it. Much of the information was things I would have looked up while reading this story anyway. And I always like pictures from the time period when I am reading historical fiction. I found this device to be atmospheric, helpful, and a great tension-releaser at times.

Both The Boneshaker and Countdown have gotten Newbery buzz...

Okay, I really needed a graphic novel fix, um break. So I read this...

Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites by Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson
In Burden Hill, strange things keep happening and the only ones to notice are the dogs and cats of the neighborhood. So, of course, they are the ones who are trying to stop it. Zombies, ghosts, witches, giant killer frogs--you name it, it is coming to Burden Hill.

Beasts of Burden features a small cast of dogs and one cat, all pets, who are just doing there best to keep their neighborhood safe. Ace is the leader, a calm and resourceful husky with a small wild streak. Jack is level-headed and kind, while Rex may look large and dependable, but is actually a coward. Whitey is a bit spastic and Pugsley is the continual voice of desent and complaint, yet always seems to join in and help out. Orphan is the cat, a stray whom the dogs take in, with a rough past and an interesting set of skills and connections.

Oh, and don't miss the beautiful artwork. Full color paintings and good attention to the details of how animals move and look make the pictures a pleasure to read as well. Thompson is best known for her work in The Sandman, Scary Godmother, and Magic Trixie. Once again, her talent and sense of color shine through.
Check it out while I eagerly await the next volume!

Birthmarked by Caragh O'Brien
Gaia Stone has just delivered her first baby and taken it to the city to become part of a wealthy family, when she discovers that her parents have been arrested for keeping records of births. Now she must infiltrate a structured and controlled caste society to save them or die trying. More dystopian fiction. Deals with reproductive rights and the question of the good of the one vs the good of the many.

I'll admit, it took me awhile to get into this one. It starts a bit slow, but once it picks up, it's pretty intriguing. I like that there were no easy answers, no definite good or bad, and that the characters, at least most of them, continually question themselves, their motives, and the system.

I am very eager to read the sequel.

Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld
I reviewed Leviathan, the predecessor to Behemoth, last year and I wasn't that sure about it. Review is here. However, on rereading (well, listening to the excellent Alan Cummings audiobook) I kind of fell in love with the whole world of it.

So when I read Behemoth, it swept me up. The crew of the Leviathan, including Deryn/Dylan and Alek and his Austrians, arrive in Constantinople (hereon referred to as Istanbul). Unfortunately, Austria-Hungary is now at war with Brittain, so the captain has effectively placed the Austrians in captivity. So they escape, or at least half do. And join in the Ottoman revolution...

The relationship between Alek and Deryn slowly develops and a couple people do discover both their secrets (well lots discover Alek's). Politics, intrigue, and lots of walker battles make this episode of the story fast-paced and full of revelations. We finally find out what is in the eggs! Not what I expected, but I love it!

Westerfeld's masterful, slow revelation of character and his fabulous fight and chase scenes make this a fun read. I got to the end and screamed with joy to find out where the crew is headed next. Can't wait a whole year for Goliath!!!!!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Keeper by Kathi Appelt

The first thing I experienced when reading Keeper was frustration. I found the start agonizingly slow. It bounced back and forth between Keeper waiting for the tide to come in (and waiting and waiting…and waiting…and then waiting some more) back to what led her to get in the boat in the first place. And what led her to get into the boat isn’t fully revealed until almost 200 pages. I feel torn about this. On the one hand not revealing it all at once added to the suspense and kept the story moving, on the other hand I was left feeling like Keeper was majorly overreacting for a large chunk of the story. Feeling like that made it hard for me to understand or empathize with her decisions (you know because I spent my time wondering why she was being such an idiot).

At the same time the narrative switches off between characters and these characters include an elderly man, a seagull, some dogs, and other important adults. That part I loved. It added sweet perspectives and some magic into a story that at its heart is about a girl coming to terms with her absent mother.

There is a lot of repetition going on in this book. Not only do we get scenes replayed, becoming fuller and longer bit by bit, but we also get phrases (“the world unto itself” is one) repeated throughout the story. Appelt is really playing with language here. Alliteration and rhythm are ever present. It gives the book a real sense of place and an identifiable style.

At the end we have a breakthrough moment where Keeper dredges up a memory of her mother that is equally heartbreaking and infuriating. We learn the truth of Keeper’s mother as well as how Keeper got her unusual name. Possible spoilers ==> what I wondered is did she really not have a name for 3 years of her life? Seriously? They just had pet names for her? I find this hard to believe. And is Keeper her real name or another pet name (and if it’s a pet name it seems like a hella weird choice). Those thoughts led me to ones on whether or not Keeper even has a birth certificate which is certainly outside the scope of this story. Anyhow, with respect to drama, Keeper’s name scores an A, it was a very dramatic scene and I choked up reading it, but it was definitely problematic for me.<== End of spoilers. In the end, I did enjoy this book. I loved the shifting perspectives, the beautiful use of language. I loved how the story was resolved for Keeper, but perhaps even more so for Dogie and Signe and for Mr. Beauchamp. Everything is tied up nicely, but it feels right. It feels like this is where they were headed from the beginning and they’ve finally caught up to where they are supposed to be.

More Spoilers ==> Was I disappointed that her mother wasn't a mermaid? Maybe a little. But I did sort of love how mermaids were real, even if her mother was just a crappy mother. <== end of spoilers.


Book Source: Library Copy

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Red Blazer Girls: The Vanishing Violin by Michael Beil

I've been busy reading for our Mock Newbery and Mock Printz, but I had to take a break from the heavy reading (I'm looking at you Ship Breaker and Finnikin of the Rock) to have some fun.

I loved the debut Ring of Racamadour. Once again Sophie shines as our narrator and the friendship among the four 7th grade girls warms my heart.

This story contains not one, not two, but three mysteries! It begins right on the heels of the first book and there's a nice summary via a newspaper article to catch new readers up to speed.

A few convenient lucky breaks, but all in all a romp of a contemporary mystery. Sharpen your pencils and get ready for some puzzle solving fun with the girls. (Even the book design is fun!)

Friday, September 24, 2010

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

(Alison reviewed this one back in February).

The thing that impressed me most about this book was Delphine’s voice (what a voice!). Delphine had me on the very first page. I loved that we got all her inner dialogue that just told it like she saw it, because when she spoke aloud her thoughts were edited so that she could protect and guide her sisters. She’s a smart girl who is super observant of her environment and even when she didn’t fully understand all the undercurrents I was always confident that she would figure it out (along with a little help from Ms. Merriam Webster of course).

I really liked how race relations were handled in this book. You’ve got black/white, shown by interactions with the white people in the airport/the hippies/the shopkeeper in San Francisco. You’ve got black/asian shown by Mean Lady Ming and Hirohito and his mom. And you’ve got black/black shown by Big Ma’s/Papa’s perspective vs. the Black Panther’s views. It made for a really rich exploration that was both subtle and respectful. And it seemed as though it was very true to the time period that it was set in. That was a very turbulent and exciting time of change and it made for an excellent backdrop.

I loved how Williams-Garcia was able to weave the political into the story. Even though this is a historical fiction, I think it is completely relevant to modern-day kids. So many of the things that Delphine took away from her summer with the Black Panthers are still completely applicable today. Communities are stronger if they organize, the system doesn’t always have everyone’s best interests in mind, you can choose to support businesses that support the community, you should be proud of your heritage, and no one is a second class citizen.

The personal was also handled wonderfully. Delphine’s family is fractured. Her mom left shortly after the youngest of the three sisters was born and even though they are fairly happy well-adjusted girls there is definitely a hole in their lives. I found the way that Celine, their mother, was written to be incredibly interesting. This is no story of a heartwarming reunion where the mother regrets leaving them, which truthfully I was sort of expecting. Instead, when the moment of resolution comes, Delphine gets an understanding of her mother’s circumstances that is different and too much to handle. I liked that it made Delphine mad, that it was obvious to her that she deserved more, while it also helped her to accept her mother and her mother’s limitations. I thought it was powerful.

In short, I loved it. Great pick for our Mock Newbery.


Book Source = Library Copy

Thursday, September 16, 2010

House of Dolls by Francesca Lia Block and Barbara McClintock

When I heard Francesca Lia Block wrote a middle grade/juvenile book I immediately wanted to read it. Her magic-realism LA punk fairy contemporary fantasies don't have wide appeal, but those of us who get it sure do love it.

House of Dolls is an honest to goodness sweet little book. Barbara McClintock's fabulous illustrations are a welcome and wonderful bonus. There's a whimsical French feel to her drawings which adds to the fashion fabulousity of Block's living doll house tale. The book design is enough of a reason to pick the title up and give it a whirl and the page count barely reaches 61.

Madison Blackberry is a young girl who has everything but friends and affection from her parents. She inherited a fantastic doll house that belonged to her grandmother complete with a real bonsai tree, a lake (made from an old mirror), and trunkfulls of exquisite clothes for the 3 doll inhabitants. Madison is an unhappy girl and she reflects this unhappiness on her dolls. There's happiness in the end when the adults finally take notice of our Madison (with help from the dolls and grandma) and she in turn returns that happiness back to the dolls.

Block's usual themes of unconditional love and acceptance fill the story. Young girls who would rather take fashion advice from
Tavi than what the Disney Channel churns out would make likely candidates for this book.

source: checked out from my library

Monday, September 13, 2010

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

This is how it is done people. This is how you write a dysptopia. Just the right amount of world building (what little he does goes a long way. It is remarkable), awesome characterization, tight writing with no padding, and the slang. I LOVE the slang. And I love the names. In fact I think it would be safe to say that I pretty much love everything about this book.

I thought I had written about this before, but I couldn't find my post so I must not have (edited to add: I wrote a lame haiku). I would've liked to compare my first impressions with my second read of the book. I know I really liked it the first time and I think I loved it even more when I finished it for the second time. I couldn't help but compare it to Finnikin which I just wrote about. In every way Ship Breaker put Finnikin to shame (and I say that while still liking Finnikin FYI). The writing in this is really spare and to the point and totally effective. We don't know much about the wider world where this story is set, but we don't need to. We know everything we need to know in order for this story to work, nothing extra. The violence is just as evident and in your face but somehow managed to avoid being graphic and over the top. The dialogue was totally believable and that dang slang...honestly, incredible. I think I'm going to tell people to crew up. We'll see how that goes over at the next staff meeting.

This is a future where people live on beaches making shacks out of anything they can scavenge. Category six hurricanes, or city killers, are common. People's work crews are everything. In Nailer's world you're either small enough for light crew or you better hope you're big enough to fight for a spot on heavy crew. Either way the window for work is small and you better be loyal and reliable and hard working. Trust is everything. Break a blood oath and you'll get a knife through your work tattoos marking you as an oath breaker.

There are environmental themes, this is very much a commentary on where our reliance on oil is going to lead us. Themes of class division, morals and humanity, family, loyalty, and some genetic engineering thrown in to round us out (I am dying to learn more about Tool).

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta

First Impressions. I read this book again in anticipation of our Mock Printz.

Usually I write notes as I read, for some reason though, this time I guess I was feeling lazy because I waited until the end to write anything. I'm sure we'll all suffer because of that haha.

My first thoughts were basically about how dense this story is. To take a look at the book you might not think it was too long (it clocks in at around 400 pages which is nothing to snear at) but I swear by the time you're done you'll be convinced you read at least 800 pages. If not more. This sucker reads like a multi-volume epic. I mean there is just a lot of stuff going on in this book. I don't necessarily mean that in a bad way, but I did feel a bit like I had been put through the wringer.

This is probably the grittiest YA fantasy I have ever read. Think The Road for teens if The Road had a bit less baby eatin' and a bit more rape and pestilence with a sprinkle of hope mixed in (hey, both are Honestly? The book is bleak. Now is this a bad thing? I don't think so. I thought it was a great strength of the novel. This is not a book to glorify violence, nor is it a book to shy away from showing the results of violence. At times that makes it a difficult read, but perhaps more worthy for that.

The dialogue was a bit meladramatic at times, a little flowery and the characters said things that I had a hard time believing would ever come out of anyone's mouth ever. But I'll tell you what, I knew what was going to happen this time and I still couldn't put it down.

Looking over my first review I still had a major "what the what?" moment when the narration cuts unexpectedly away from Finniken to Froi for one chapter. For 239 pages we've been clearly been following Finniken. Then for one single chapter we follow Froi. Talk about jarring. That part did not get better on the second read.

All in all though, this is a real good one.

Book Source: Personal Copy

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Joanna and Patti Discuss...Mockingjay!


You've been warned! In red! That means it is a serious warning people.

Patti: Alright, so first impressions?

Joanna: First impressions! I thought there would be more fighting. Although I'm usually not an epilogue person, I liked this one.

Patti: oh really? I can't say I was expecting more fighting, but I wasn't not expecting that either. And really, I thought there was a good bit of it throughout the story

Joanna: There was a bit much Peeta/Gale inner-Katniss dialogue that irked me.I guess I thought we'd see more Katniss like we did in the games. It really only came out in the 3rd part. (fighting)

Patti: What I noticed first was how damaged Katniss was. She was a different Katniss. Darker, more skeptical. I found her to be completely believable. I liked her a lot.

Joanna: PTSD for sure. I liked how she was hiding out. She is still a kid.

Patti: Yes. And how all of the victors were suffering. It was intense.

Joanna: Right. Combat wounds. Other people just don't get it. Finnick really got me.

Patti: And how there is such a large distance between them (like they really know what is up) and between the districk 12/13 ians

Joanna: Elaborate.

Patti: The difference between how Gale and Katniss see Coin. How they react to every situation. The lack of empathy Gale shows compared to the incredible empathy that Katniss shows. One is willing to kill for a point and the other knows killing doesn't lead to much other than killing (even though she's willing to do it to survive)

Joanna: Right. I really liked seeing that about Gale. I liked how he balanced out Katniss's thoughts and made her really consider what was going on. I also started to realize that he isn't the match for her. He had very valid positions (knowing your enemy's weeknesses) but he was very "ends justify the means". Like a hunter?

Patti: Good point. But i think it was also just a forest for the trees thing. What kind of new world will you have if your leader is every bit as ruthless as the old one?

Joanna: Katniss has a great line when she and gale go to see Beetee and they talk about the hummingbirds - about how we're all acting in self-defense.

Patti: And if you buy into that mentality, if the ends justify the means then you're just going to be the world's new peacekeaper

Joanna: YES. YES. That is one of my favorite points of the series. They were becoming the thing they were rebelling against. When Coin mentioned putting Capitol kids in the Hunger Games I about lost it.

Patti: There were a lot of great lines in here. I really have been disheartened at some of the reactions to the book. I thought it was strong and well written. This is exactly where Collins has been heading. War is ugly and senseless and we lose ourselves.

Joanna: District 13 is so interesting.

Patti: Oh man the "new" hunger games was ruthless.

Joanna: And being careful with power. Having the Katnisses and Peetas of the world remind us what it costs.

Patti: District 13 was fascinating. So totalitarian. Every little thing balanced and weighed out. Which for survival is good, but to continue indefinitely? What does that do to free will? When does it stop being for your own good and for someone else's climb to power.

Joanna: Someone else's form of submission. Brilliant. They did what they needed to survive and to their credit they did. But then they got freaky!

Patti: Right! They took it too far. They could have entered the world and hunted again to supplement their diet. Why not? No more creativity.

Joanna: No privacy!

Patti: Everything driven and focused on revenge. Which to a point. Yeah, they needed to get Snow out of there. But they were losing their ability to be human.

Joanna: The design team in the dungeon being tortured! Hello! So do you think Plutarch knew?

Patti: And you know, anyone who will torture (like the prep team was tortured) not people you want to lead you. Great minds!

Joanna: :)

Patti: I think Plutarch knew. I'm sure it fit into his plan somehow. I don't think there wasn't much he missed and calibrated into what would make the best T.V. He was calculating. And I think he knew Katniss well. What motivation she needed. Plus, he has probably seen way worse, maybe it didn't seem to bad to him. Or maybe he didn't know! I don't know.

Joanna: It's something to think about. It's left open. And yeah, he is a weirdo. The traps in the city - sick sick man. There's another itchy creepy little plot - staging propaganda and televising everything. What is "news."

Patti: Yes. You know what really got me? Finnick talking about how he was basically a sex slave.

Joanna: Moving on!

Patti: That kicked me in the gut.

Joanna: Finnick. I love him. But again. Back to the horrors of war. And he was a kid.

Patti: How you're a slave to the capital before, you're a slave during, and a slave after, even when you're supposed to be "safe."

Joanna: Look at what is going on in Africa? Southeast Asia?

Patti: And safe in the only way you're allowed to be. Totally.

Joanna: Exactly. Winning isn't winning. So so creepy.

Patti: All ties back into her themes. Everything.

Joanna: It made me rethink every Tribute we've met. HAYMITCH.

Patti: Yes. It explains why they were all in the rebellion for sure.

Joanna: I wish there was more of him, but I guess his story is to be guessed at. Pieced together with stories from the other champions. Almost every character is not to be trusted at one point in the book.

Patti: Yeah, I could have done with more details. I could have done with more Haymitch period. He was fun and always added interesting perspectives.

Joanna: But the trick was to figure out who was still on your side.

Patti: I found it interesting that he went back to district 12 and then just lost himself in a bottle again. No moving on for Haymitch.

Joanna: I love that he never gave up on Katniss or Peeta.

Patti: True that. He did what he had to do, but tried to make up for it when he could.

Joanna: In my imagination... he was the grumpy old man next door to Peeta and Katniss.

Patti: Ha!

Joanna: Keeping some happy in there.

Patti: What did you think of Peeta's brain hijacking? There has been some discontent on that. I thought it was interesting.

Joanna: Oh, relay me the discontent. Not believable? I thought it was smart of her. I mean, Snow managed to put white roses out for Katniss. Evil knows no bounds.

Patti: I think some people thought it was convenient. Like she had to make up some sort of tension. I thought it was interesting. There is a quote on p. 232 that I loved. Basically they meet and talk and he dismisses her coldly and says, "you're a piece of work, aren't you." and she is PISSED. Angry and hatefull and she says. "It's almost too mortifying to admit. All those months of taking it for granted that Peeta thought I was wonderful are over. Finally, he can see me for who I really am. Violent. Distrustful. Manipulative. Deadly. And I hate him for it." Wowzer! Because she is all those things, she's been forced to become all those things. But in fact she has kept her humanity so that it isn't all that she is. I thought it was a real definative turning point in the story. She is going to EFF things up.

Joanna: I liked that it wasn't a hugs and kisses reunion. Peeta's been borderline cheesy when it comes to Katniss in the past. I liked that their reunion was violent and he had to relearn about her by remembering those things the capitol could not take from him. So much tension! When he went on the mission. Comedy when he went to eat dinner

Patti: Yes yes yes. He really is. And honestly, that gets old and pathetic. So I enjoyed him more in this one that I have before. Much more dynamic, more nuanced.

Joanna: And clearly effed up. He didn't seem as traumatized at Katniss after book 1 and 2. (He made Finnick and Annie's cake! Hilarious. And adorable.)

Patti: Totally. That was one of my favorite part. How damaged everyone is. So realistic. And like you said, how Collins manages to add in the humor. It was brilliant.

Joanna: There were an number of times that I had to remember that Katniss and Peeta are still teenagers.

Patti: So if we must touch on Team Peeta and Team Gale (and I think we, now seems like a good time to do it.

Joanna: Drum roll....

Patti: Ha! I think that portion also pissed off a lot of readers... you know the ones that were cracked in the head and thought this was some sort of Twilighty love story. It wasn't really a happy ending. It was an ending with moments, glimpses of happiness

Joanna: And total utter heartbreak. Epic heartbreak.

Patti: Epic. Unending.

Joanna: I was happy she was with Peeta because I realized that Gale is not her choice. Honestly, going in I really didn't have an opinion about either.

Patti: Me neither, and I really didn't think it was the point of the story. I think I agree with you that in this book we got more of it, and i wonder if it was just that Katniss had more downtime to think about it in her wanderings. I mean, she is like 16/17. Why does she need to have things figured out. How many people find their forever friend at that age?

Joanna: The saddest part about the ending for me was Katniss's mom (name?) distancing herself from her daughter. Broke. My. Heart.

Patti: You know, I didn't read it like that. I thought she just needed time. But I think you're right.

Joanna: Right, but it is a teen novel.

Patti: Oh! and that about Prim dying. Many people thought it was gratuitous.

Joanna: Everybody died.

Patti: I thought it was senseless and made sense. War = senseless.

Joanna: You can't like one character in her novels without the thought that he/she will get offed in some horrific way. Melting skin? Torn apart by zombie reptiles? Dart in the eye?

Patti: LOLOL

Joanna: Right.

Patti: Redunculous violence.

Joanna: Again. Finnick.

Patti: Poor Finnick.

Joanna: I do admit, and we have to discuss it, the parachute disaster was a lot for her to ask of us readers.

Patti: Parachute disaster?

Joanna: The children at the capitol.

Patti: OOOOHHHHHHH right.

Joanna: Plutarch and Gale and Beetee's involvement.

Patti: What did you think? That it was the rebels? I thought it was strongly implied.

Joanna: And that creepy encounter with Snow when it comes to us that holy crap everyone is insane. Doesn't Gale apologize to her in the epilogue?

Patti: (and that he laughed/choked himself to death on his blood...sick)

Joanna: Yeah, but he didn't get the end of Katniss's arrow!

Patti: Gale did apologize, but it was a "we'll never know for sure." bullstein type of apology.

Joanna: Keeps you thinking. Mark of a great story.

Patti: Honestly, I loved it. I thought it showed once again, that just because you're fighting against an evil, doesn't automatically give you the moral high ground. It is your actions and most importantly how you treat your enemies that does that. And I totally thought Coin did it inspired by Gale's weapon. And I don't think that is really why Gale and Katniss didn't stay "friends" or whatever. I thought it was Gale's lack of empathy. I think if he felt remorse it could have been different.

Joanna: Agreed. Gale and Katniss aren't the same people they were before. It's okay.

Patti: Totally ok. Did you think the parachute was over the top? too much?

Joanna: Honestly. Yes. And that it was children. Ugh.

Patti: Ha! And that might be why i was the opposite. I thought it was a fitting conclusion to Plutarch's last hunger games.

Joanna: Oh. Interesting.'

Patti: Why kill just 24 when you can kill a whole bunch more. And film it all for posterity.

Joanna: I was kind of sad Plutarch made it alive.

Patti: Yeah, his type should die. BOGGS!

Joanna: BOGGS!

Patti: Oh I loved Boggs. That was sadness tripled.

Joanna: Interesting guy. Made me think that knowing Katniss turned his thoughts. Or more likely got him to think about 13. And Coin.

Patti: A brand new District 13 ally. I think she did, but there was probably some seeds there before. Not everyone can drink the koolaid.

Joanna: Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.

Patti: So what do you think? Where would you rate it between the three books? Best? Worst?

Joanna: Oh, I'm terrible at that. Er. I think it's hard to top 1.

Patti: The first is probably the best, or else none of us would have kept reading. But I thought it was probably one of the most powerful series closers that I have ever read.

Joanna: I was so grateful that it wasn't an 800 page ramble fest like Deathly Hallows. Cram it all in!

Patti: I thought it might have been even more breathless than the first. For one we get answers. Lots of tying up of plot points.

Joanna: But mysteries are what is great about the first one.

Patti: You know, I'm just going to say it I thought it was the strongest written of the three. The first was breathless and had me freaking out and I loved it, but this ending was so satisfying to me. She stayed totally true to the series, characters, everything. I loved it. Possibly even more than the Monsters of Men finale to the Chaos Walking Series.

Joanna: Oh! Strong words! It's very satisfying.

Patti: I know. My one complaint about Monsters of Men was the Mayor. He lived WAAAAYYYYY too long. It bored me a little. Just kill the MF already.

Joanna: As I read I always try to figure out what could happen and with these books it is almost impossible. She consistently pulls the rug out from under the reader.

Patti: Yes. Her plotting is impeccable. But I really do think her writing got stronger too.

Joanna: Agreed. You can't eff up this idea with lousy writing. Too important.

Patti: Maybe I could have dealt with a little less Katniss self reflection on her responsibility for so many people's deaths. Yes, Katniss I get it. But then I just remind myself that this entire series took place in like less than 2 years time. That is not a lot of time to process things. Not for an adult and especially not for a 16/17 year old kid.

Joanna: It also sets you up because there are way more deaths on the way. How is she going to handle that. When she was walking through District 12 at the beginning and saying "I killed you" to the bodies, that was brutal. But yeah, yeah she had a part in it.


The part where the conversation turns to about other books....

Patti: Now for the finale to Skin Hunger... That is the only other series I'm anxiously awaiting a final book on. You?

Joanna: Interesting to make the connection between the two. And we will have to wait about 3 more years, right?

Patti: Probably. I hope not. But probably seeing as how she didn't seem to have the book plotted out. That was wild to find out.

Joanna: But she is good so one of those that will be worth the wait. Just hope that it doesn't become one of those "whoops, it's actually FOUR books!" and then that's a sign that it will stink.

Patti: lol

Joanna: Speaking of reading, I finally read Graceling. It was weird to read Katniss and Katsa next to each other. Both worried about being monsters.

Patti: Did you like?

Joanna: Yes. I'm curious about Fire. I'll have to get to that but my next book is Finnikin of the Rock. Went to get Ship Breaker but the librarian couldn't locate it in the library! Somebody stole it!

Patti: Alright, well it was lovely chatting with you!

Joanna: Yay! It was fun!