Friday, March 30, 2012

Beneath a Meth Moon by Jacqueline Woodson

I wasn’t sure how I would enjoy this book. Realistic fiction, or rather realistic fiction that deals with an "issue" is generally not my favorite type of story. However, how can a reader not trust Ms. Woodson to take them on a journey? She is one of the best YA writers out there. I’ve read enough of her books to trust her implicitly. I may struggle with the subject, but I know I’m going to enjoy excellent writing, characterization, and storytelling along the way.

This is a book about meth. It is a story of a girl with heartache and tragedy in her life, although nothing that support and family can’t help you through. Laurel has all that, but when she’s offered meth for the first time she naively and sort of unquestionably takes it anyway. Perhaps she didn’t realize what it was? Regardless, she’s immediately transformed. It fills up the holes inside of her much more quickly than they were healing on their own. And like it will, meth quickly takes over her life.

It is an interesting contrast between how lyrical the book is written and how ugly meth is. The sores, the scratching, the desperation, it is all there in the book, but because Woodson can write with grace, this isn’t what I would call a gritty book.

There are interesting religious references. Laurel grows up in Pass Christian, a gulf coast town in Mississipi, she loses her family to a flood (caused by Hurricane Katrina), Her father moves her to a town named Galilee, where she eventually meets Moses, a boy who symbolically parts the flood waters helping her find her way to recovery and home.

This is a beautifully written book. I will say that I had a hard time connecting with Laurel. I felt held at hands length away. I felt sorry for her, but I didn’t empathize on a level that I expected to. In any case, I did appreciate how these were average everyday kids that fell into this. They weren’t typical “at risk” kids. I also appreciated how clearly it was shown that recovery is incredibly difficult, often more so for meth than other drugs. What would have driven this home would have been a meth fact page/resource list at the end.

Book Source = Library Copy

Girl of Nightmares by Kendare Blake

This sequel to Anna Dressed in Blood starts fairly soon after the first book ends. Anna has dragged the Obeahman to hell (or wherever it is ghosts go). Cas is still reeling from losing her and is having trouble moving on. Mostly because he doesn’t feel as though she’s truly at rest. It doesn’t help that he keeps thinking he hears her laugh, or spots her dress, or sees her hair in the corner of his eye. Pretty soon, he’s sure that she’s haunting him and, turns out, she is.

Girl of Nightmares is substantially different from the first installment. But where there is less ghost hunting there is substantially more conspiracy. Luckily it totally works. The characters and storyline are strong enough to move along in a new direction (which, really it would have to right? How long can a romance go on between a ghost and a ghost hunter? Actually, don’t answer that. Readers, consider yourself lucky ).

We’ve got a secret society that looms large, which is very fun. We’ve got a new character that is going to show up in sequels that is going to be a match for Cas and challenge him in several ways. We’ve got people with secret pasts and secret missions. It is good stuff. And it whips up to a frenetic conclusion.

It is published in August and already I can’t wait for the sequel. I Want it now!

Book Source = Renee's Review Copy

Sunday, March 25, 2012

YALSA, What's up?

Joanna mentioned this several posts back, but did you know you have to register with YALSA in order to view their award and booklist information?

Honestly, YALSA. What’s up? Why the lock-down on your booklists? Did you feel like you needed to throw up some barriers to all that free and accessible information?

So now if you'd like to take a peek at the award winners you have to register.

“If you are not a member, you will need to fill out this form. By filling out this form, you will receive some kind of contact from YALSA and will be provided an opportunity to opt-out of future communications at that time.”

Did you like that? You will be provided the opportunity to opt-out later. Gee, thanks guys! I also love that I’ll receive “some kind of contact!” That is just creepy! Are y'all going to show up on my doorstep with pamphlets proselytizing the virtues of being an ALA member?

The kicker is that then they ask what kind of information you want to receive from YALSA. And they don’t give you the option to receive nothing. It is required to pick one (or more!) categories of information that will then be sent to you via email. The lesson I learned from this? Information is not free! Even from an organization the professes the freedom to read!

“Thank you for telling us a little more about yourself so that we can meet your needs! You may now access the following pages”

I don’t know how to tell you this, but you met my needs a lot better before I was forced to give you my email address and receive spam from you!

Stop the crazyness!


Thursday, March 22, 2012

Chopsticks by Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral

My first feeling when I put down this book was confusion. What exactly happened in this story? I knew I was missing something big. So I went and read the professional reviews. Ahhh, I thought. I did miss something. They say, "read it more than once." So I did. My feelings when I put down this book for the second time? There was less confusion, more appreciation, but probably mostly frustration. Why frustration? Well, this is a concept book told through photos, video stills, letters, paintings, programs. It pushes the boundaries of storytelling. However, there was much left unexplained and it's visual strengths created some narrative weaknesses.

Please don't read this review unless you have read the book, or are curious about what happened. Spoilers ahead. You've been warned.

What we think we know: Glory is a piano prodigy. Her mother is dead and her father seems to be a bit overbearing on her piano career, forcing her to perform and tour the world. Glory meets and falls in love with Frank, the boy next door. Father does not approve. Frank is an artist who paints beautiful pictures. Glory seems to be mentally unstable and can't stop playing chopsticks.
She is institutionalized and then disappears one day.

What we actually know: Apparently nothing.

Recurring pictures/themes:
1. Frank's school logo is the SAME as the institution where Glory has been sent by the end of the book. The names of the school/institution is different, but the principle/administrator has the same name (the institution is hilariously called "Golden Hands Rest Facility" which made me think it was an institution created for piano prodigies who need mental health breaks so they can get back to performing).
2. We think Frank is an artist, but the photos at the end show Glory painting some of the very paintings Frank was supposed to have painted.
3. Wine. Glory's mom was a wine importer. There is a special bottle of wine in her old trunk that is the same type that Frank is given by his parents on his 16th birthday. The wine seems to come from Mendoza Estate. Frank's last name is Mendoza. Frank has moved here from Argentina. The wine seems to be from Argentina.
4. The Kraken. It shows up as stickers, on t-shirts, on paintings.
5. There is more, but I'm kind of working up a funk because I don't like how open ended it is.

I really liked the idea. I did. I loved the interconnections and the questions they raised, but there were so many possibilities that the reader is left with...nothing. I mean, can we trust the photos or not? Can we trust the IMs or not? What is made up? What is exaggerated? What is true? Did Frank exist or is Glory schizophrenic? I love the unreliable narrator, but without more to go on this really starts to feel like an exercise in futility which is incredibly frustrating.

By the end I was pretty convinced that the entire story was a figment of Glory's imagination. She is an artist and the damn girl never played anything but chopsticks in her life. She created Frank out of a wine label with a dude's picture on it and fabricated an entire history with him that never existed.

What I find the most frustrating is not even that. It isn't. It is that I couldn't find enough clues to definitively say what happened in the story. Now, Patti, you might say, "Isn't that the point?" And I might answer, "sure, but that doesn't mean that at the end of the story you've got a success."

Book Source = Library Copy

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Obsidian Blade by Pete Hautman

This is a title where the reviews have been sort of all over the place. A starred review from Booklist, a mostly positive from Kirkus and a rather confusing one from publisher’s weekly (I personally didn’t think the 9-11 segment was jaw-dropping or particularly daring. In fact, to be honest I found it odd that it was found to be an event of consequence on par with the crucifixion of Christ or the Holocaust, but I'm getting ahead of myself). Nevertheless, there was much to like in this book. There was much to be sort of bored with too.

So, yeah, there are some “events” in this book. It is essentially a time-travel book. There are special disks that are hidden in the town of Hopewell, the residence of one Tucker Feye, our main protagonist. These disks were created by an artist so far in the future that (s)he doesn’t even have a corporal form at the time of his/her life. The disks were an art project to remind those in the future of pivotal events in the past. Events such as listed above (again – 9-11? Not to be dismissive, but the scale of 9-11 is pretty small and concentrated when compared to the other historical events used).

Tucker becomes aware of the disks when his father inadvertently disappears through one after falling off the roof. After a while (and a several set-uppy-type-events that to this reader took more time than necessary to transpire) Tucker himself decides to go through a disk.

Here is my main complaint: There is far too much time dedicated to the set-up of this book. So much time is dedicated that it is hard to understand that there is actually a probable (and interesting) connection to what seem to at first be a random selection of historical events (well, I should point out that by the time the book ends only the crucifixion scene gets tied back in. The 9-11 scene could have been anything/anywhere at this point. It was important only because of an interaction that transpired there, but there could be more to it that isn’t revealed at this point).

Another more minor complaint: The made up future language of people like the Klaatu, awn, etc. The naming conventions didn’t seem well integrated into the story and seemed chosen for their futuristic sounds more than anything else.

The book literally ends with a bang. It was fantastic, heart-stopping awesome ending. I loved it. There was action, there was betrayal, there were villains…It was so good I wanted to know why it took so long to get to something at this level of excitement. If it had been this exciting for at least half the book I’d be chomping at the bit for the sequel. As it is now, I’m not sure the payoff was worth it for me. Which is a darned shame. I love Pete Hautman and I have a feeling this series is going to be really interesting come the next installment.

Book Source = Publisher Copy

Saturday, March 10, 2012

What We're Reading at Our House - 6, part 2

In my last post I mentioned my youth lit reads. I also plucked some adult lit to mix things up a bit. Here's what stood out.

First up, Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward. I totally forgot that Patti mentioned it during the ALA Youth Media Awards chat and said she put it down because she knew it would be too sad. Patti, I think you should reconsider!

I loved it. It takes place over 12 days surrounding Hurricane Katrina and the lives of a 15 year old teen and her brothers who live in a Mississippi swamp. We know the devastation of Katrina and that just added to the tension. Forget food - get out! Esch and Skeetah are a sister/brother team that will stay with me for a long time. Check this one out. I read it in a day.

An excellent choice for a 2012 Alex Award Winner. *below for a slight spoiler that could be the Patti deal-breaker.

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan earned this Pulitzer Prize this past year.  Two people, a music executive and his assistant, are the common thread in the multiple stories of other people that build this novel. We don't get the story in chronological order and sometimes it takes until the next chapter to figure out how the previous chapter's character fulfills his/her part of the larger story. It's a fun ride with lots of rock and punk references. I liked this one better than Jeffrey Eugenides' The Marriage Plot. The section of the novel with the most striking impact for me was the power point presentation by the tween daughter. (Go figure.)

Now State of Wonder by Ann Patchett involved a bit of a leap for me. Yes, I thought it was excellent. It was my first Patchett novel even though friends have suggested her for years. I checked it out after seeing it on some Best of 2011 list and without much knowledge of its plot. Turns out it's about doctors developing medicines in the Brazilian rainforest. Huh. Not exactly my cup of tea, but I quickly became engrossed. Rather fascinating.

Finally, I'm trying to add more contemporary poetry to my reading. This month I read Kay Ryan's The Best of It. Kay Ryan was our poet laureate from 2008-2010. She was recommended in an interview with Sherman Alexie so I took that as another good sign. The poems are short and I found them very accessible. Here's a NYT review with a copy of the (excellent) title poem included.

*P.S.  re: Gordon Korman's excellent YA novel about the animal on the cover. But it's sooooo good.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Children and the Wolves by Adam Rapp

Hoo boy. This book. Friends, this book took me 4 days to read, perhaps a personal record for slowness (there was only around 150 pages). I’ve read Adam Rapp before. I knew what I was in for. I was well aware this was not going to be a fun-fest. The thing about Adam Rapp though, is that, well, the dude can write.

The writing in this book is spare to the point where it is almost starving. A fitting match for characters who are starving for love, attention, and frankly any sort of morality.

We’ve got Bounce, our leader with definite sociopathic tendencies. She’s rich. She’s neglected. She’s intelligent and probably just this side of insane. She’s also got a crew of two that she keeps well supplied with pharmaceuticals. Orange, also perhaps sociopathic and Wiggins, our lost boy who knows he’s got a “badness” inside him, but in all this mess he’s our only beacon of light. A weak light, but believe me, you’ll take it.

Together they kidnap a four year old girl and lock her up in a basement. The reasons for this are cloudy. *highlight for SPOILERIFIC discussion* The plan is put into place by Bounce. Her motivations are unclear. Is it because the young girl seems loved, whereas Bounce is neglected by her wealthy parents (to a point where her parents are so busy on their European vacations – where they send her pictures of them sightseeing – but refuse to take her with them because they are “business” trips it almost seems over the top). Does she kidnap her with the intention of soliciting funds in her name for her other murderous plot? Why couldn’t she just pay for that out of pocket? She is wealthy after all. *end SPOILERS*

My one issue with the book was the video game that the four year old girl was playing in captivity. She seemed to have a lot of manual dexterity for a four year old. The video game also seemed terribly complex for someone of her age to understand. There was probably also some metaphorical parallels I was missing since I was so busy being disturbed and horrified at the plight of this young girl.

It is a bleak world Mr. Rapp paints for us. It is full of adults abusing prescription drugs along with their less legal counterparts. It is a world of children so damaged they seek the same refuge of numbness drugs can provide.

I can’t really say I enjoyed this book. There wasn’t much redemption, there wasn’t much hope, we’re not sure if Bounce ever gets caught (although I really hope so), but it was very, very well written.

Book Source = Publisher Copy

What We're Reading at Our House - 6

Other titles for this post could be A: The month-long cold that we've passed around is finally on its way out so I can finally get other things done. Or B: Oh alright, watching each episode of Downton Abbey 10 times didn't leave much time for reading, either.

Here's what we put in our library bag this past month. (I'm impatiently waiting for The Fault in Our Stars and There Is No Dog. C'mon library! Acquire these already!)

8 year old son has continued on his quest to read all Goosebumps books, zomibe doll nightmares and all. He knocked out Harry Potter #3 and we celebrated by watching the movie, which is probably my favorite of them all. He also plowed through the Spiderwick Chronicles and we have that movie on reserve at our library.

Other notables: Bad Island by Doug TenNapel. We both loved this GN. I was particularly fond of the strong parent-child relationships. Yesterday he checked out Ghostopolis and I know he read it once already. He has Mouse Guard vol 1 (which he read ages ago) and vol 2 on his night stand.


And me? 

The Unforgotten Coat by Frank Cottrell Boyce, a novel from an author I've been meaning to read. Say what you will about lucky coincidences, but I found this immigration story magical and beautiful. The characters are reunited at the end and while that is, I'll admit, a totally schmaltzy author trick, I found it heartwarming. My sap status is firmly established on this blog so this should be no surprise.

Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall earned the Pura Belpre Author Award this year. I love a good novel in verse and this is one of them. I read it right after The Unforgotten Coat which made fore back-to-back immigration tales. Under the Mesquite is a feel good, good girl triumphs over adversity immigration tale based on the author's life. Another warm fuzzy read.

And then there was Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler, a 2012 Printz Honor. It just didn't do it for me. I am apparently not a Handler fan. I never got past book 2 of Unfortunate Events. But I love Maira Kalman and admired each piece in this book. I trudged through this one, often tiring of Min's voice and her finger pointing accusatory "Ed you this", "Ed you that". Al, Al, Al. At the beginning I liked all the fake movie titles, actors, plots, but then it wore on me. It was too precious. Too cute. Trying so darn hard to be "artsy", which Min loathed. Some sections I thought were truly excellent and distinguished, but overall I was not captivated.

P.S. What is this pain in the neck registration with ALA to view award lists? Really? 

Friday, March 2, 2012

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Oh man. This is a good book. No. Actually, this is an excellent book. I know it is early, but I think this is going to be the book to beat for the Printz.

We've got two main characters, Hazel and Augustus, both cancer survivors, one surviving at a higher level than the other. They meet in a cancer support group and are immediately drawn together. They are typical John Green characters: smart, funny, sarcastic. You will love them upon first reading.

The secondary characters are pretty fantastic as well. Issac, yet another cancer survivor who has just lost his last eye. Peter Van Houton, the reclusive author of Hazel's favorite book (i loved him even when I was sneering at him). The various sets of parents who are all refreshingly functioning and supportive.

There is plenty of gallows humor, I imagine continually dealing with your own mortality helps you develop coping skills that if you are lucky include humor and humility. Also in typical John Green fashion, this is not a book dumbed down for the masses. This is for the kids who are sharp, who are looking for answers, who don't mind thinking about things and figuring them out.

I read this in as close to one sitting as is possible for me. It took under 24 hours and my eyes leaked the entire way through (they dripped even when I was laughing out loud). It is a book that will hit your emotional core early and often and you'll be so glad you picked it up.

Book Source = Library