Tuesday, January 27, 2009

how to (un)cage a girl by francesca lia block

I know she's not everyone's cup of tea, but I am fond of Francesca Lia Block. My love for Weetzie Bat goes far back and runs deep. I haven't read all of her books, but I do get excited when I see that she has a new one out.

how to (un)cage a girl is not a novel but a collection of poems. Reviews have mentioned that there are poems about adult life that may not connect with teen readers. While there are poems about divorce, infertility, marriage infidelity and children (narrated with an adult voice), their themes of rejection, rebirth, and empowerment may bridge the age divide. The success will depend on the reader connecting with (or tolerating) FLB's emotionally raw, magic realism-y style. Established fans will be in familiar territory. New readers may stall over these poems, but will hopefully continue on, curious as to what else lies ahead.

The book jacket contains this description, "It is a call to embrace the girl within, to heal her and set her free." This is prime FLB stomping ground, her YA calling card, her mission. We all need reminders to accept our beautiful selves just as we are and this volume of poetry affirms that over and over again. Sometimes fierce, sometimes heartbreaking, but always pure Francesca Lia Block.
My 2 favorite poems are "vampire in the city of lost" and "valentina screma"
favorite lines form the latter:
torn black jeans and a joey ramone t-shirt
her more casual moments
valentina also comes with a tiny silver pistol
that shoots red glitter hearts
like a glam goth cupidette

A final note: the cover image was submitted by a fan on her website.

joanna cotler books September 2008

author website

Monday, January 26, 2009

A Countess Below Stairs by Eva Ibbotson

Anna, a Russian Countess who escapes Russia with her family during the Russian Revolution, lands in England. With no money and no prospects, she takes a job as a maid in an English household to help ends meet. There, she of course, inevitably realizes she is in love with the Earl of Westerholm. Romantic shenanigans ensue.

Seriously, this book contains no historical accuracy or research, but I loved it anyway. Who couldn't love a book where displaced Russian aristocracy simply take jobs as chauffeurs and maids without a complaint? The help instantly recognize that they are living far below their station, but their hard work and general loveliness win them over anyway.

In true romantic fashion, Anna somehow manages to snare her true love away from a rabid eugenics follower who is only after the respect his title will bring her. One is sure of a happy ending even when Anna's love is such a gentlemen as to refuse to spurn his fiance despite her having alienated everyone he loves (including the beloved Jewish friends, the lovely crippled best friend's baby sister, and the simple cook assistant, not to mention a host of others too numerous to mention).

Truly, this book is pure awesome.

ALA Youth Media Awards 2009

And the winners are....


Jellacoe Road by Melina Marchetta

Octavian Nothing #2


Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks

Tender Morsels

complete list from ALA

Thursday, January 22, 2009

I, Q Book One: Independence Hall by Roland Smith

Q, short for Quest and his new step-sister Angela have been packed up and put on a bus to tag along on their newly married parent’s music tour. They aren’t sure about the close quarters, or to be honest, each other, since they barely had time to get to know each other before their parents’ married. Besides the potentially awkward tour, Q is seriously worried that he’ll never feel full again since his new step-father only serves vegetarian meals. This, of course, turns out to be the least of his worries.

Angela’s deceased mother – the one that Q has been instructed not to ask about – turns out to have been a secret service agent. One who was killed by terrorists. At least that was what Angela and her father were told. Turns out there was more to the story, much more and Q and Angela get pulled into figuring out what happened.

There were some really fun characters introduced, especially Boone, the roadie who is so much more than just a roadie. A roadie that inexplicably hasn’t aged a day since the decades he last toured with Q’s mom (I sense a mystery that will be developed in later books…Area 51 anyone? Just a thought!).

This is a pretty great novel aimed at upper elementary and junior high aged readers. It is straightforward, occasionally a little stilted and obvious in its setting up the plot with things being told instead of insinuated and intuited by the reader. Regardless, the plot advances quickly and the reader is pulled into the intrigue of Angela’s mother’s supposed death.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inkheart Movie

Went to see the sneak preview of Inkheart this evening and I really loved it! The casting was perfect, the scenery beautifully done, and not too many changes were made. I especially like Dustfinger and Eleanor. Helen Mirren is always fabulous, but at times she almost stole the show.

There were a few small issues, such as Brendan Fraser's lack of an accent when everyone else had one. And they changed a few small things. Really wish they would have left in the bit about Tinkerbell.

One thing I was surprised about was the way they ended it. This was the first movie adaptation I can remember where the writers successfully left themselves with a viable option of either continuing with the sequel or not. They could do the next story, but they don't have to. It was very well done (maybe because the author had her hand in the whole production).

Either way, check it out. Toto is soooooo cute. And there were flying monkeys.....Who could ask for more?

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Unnameables by Ellen Borraem

Medford Runyuin washed up on Island when he was a baby and was raised by the Island's Carver. On Island, everything and everyone is named after its use and nothing useless or unnameable is allowed to stay. Including people. Life is fine and good until Medford turns 14 and is not given the Carver name; near the same time, he and his best friend find an Unnameable object left behind by an ancestor on the island, a weaving of a Goatman in colorful yarns.

This object ultimately leads to the breakdown of the friendship and further isolation for Medford, since he is also guilty of making unnameable objects, beautiful carvings that come from the wood "speaking" to him. And then a Goatman comes to the island......

This is a beautiful book about the usefulness and beauty of art, the meaning of creativity, and the importance of history. Booraem has created a complete world with spare text and simple rules, yet it is a world full of complex relationships and difficult meanings. Like The Giver, we are asked to delve into the meanings of life, community, and humanity in a unique world separate yet similar to our own.

If I could redo my Best of 2008, this book would so be on it. I am off to share it with my artistic friends!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Savage by David Almond, illustrated by Dave McKean

The Savage is a curious little book. It’s all of 79 pages and illustrated by the fabulous Dave McKean (who is often associated w/ Neil Gaiman's work). It’s not a graphic novel.

Young teen Blue Baker's dad died and the counselor at school told him to write his feelings down. Writing his feelings "just seemed stupid" but write he did. Only the words that poured out of him were "The Savage", a story about a wild kid living in the woods. "The Savage" parts of this novel are written in Blue's sloppy kid script complete with misspellings and lack of punctuation. Blue tells us in his narration that he was younger then. The exciting part, Blue tells us, is that the savage really came to life.

Blue's dad was a great dad. They talked about all kinds of things, spent time together, and his dad even went to confront the neighborhood bully to ask him to lay off. Hopper gleefully torments Blue with that encounter.

"That dad of yours was at our door last week. Do you know that? He said you'd
been whigning on about me. So you know what I said to him?" He paused while he
spat and took a drag on his cigarette. "I said, 'P*** off and die, Fatso.' And
would you believe it? It's worked!"


"From that day on, I hated him with all my heart."

After this, Blue writes Hopper into his story. Most readers will know the path this story takes. It's not a new story. David Almond's writing is concise and quick. He tells just enough. Dave McKean's illustrations really make the book. His green, blue and black ink illustrations are wild and thoughtful. He captures the savage's beautifully haunting emotions and rough movements.

Candlewick Press, 2008

also reviewed at YA Books and More, A Fuse #8

Friday, January 16, 2009

Dream Girl by Lauren Mechling

Claire has dreams. Dreams that sometimes come true. But not like psychic whodunnit dreams, more like she'll dream about a bright pink lock and then see someone getting off the plane she's one with exactly the same lock. Not very helpful in my view, but nevertheless, it is her secret talent. On her 15th birthday, her grandmother gives her a cameo that is a family heirloom. All of a sudden, Claire's dreams turn into surreal black and white events that need extreme interpretation.

I think my experience reading this book was clouded by the fact that I was extremely tired all week. I just found it...dense. As in lots and lots of words. But I kept reading, something I normally wouldn't do, so I think says something positive about the book. I thought the characterization could have used some work, the friendships should have been fleshed out a bit more, and some editing to make it shorter wouldn't have been wasted. But, all in all, I found it to be an enjoyable, but not taxing read. Even though I wasn't reading too closely I could pick up the book the next day and figure out what was going on and still get back into the story.

I will say that the girl in the cover photo looks anemic and slightly ill and mars what would otherwise be (ok if I'm honest it still is) an extremely attractive cover.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Another Twilight Article

Can be found on the Guardian blog.

Edward Cullen, the vampire hero of Twilight, has promising moments of sexy nastiness at first – "he turned slowly to glare at me – his face was absurdly handsome – with piercing, hate-filled eyes" – but then lets the side down with his ├╝ber-conservative dress-sense: "He was removing a light beige leather jacket now; underneath he wore an ivory turtleneck sweater." NB, Ms Meyer – vampires should NEVER wear beige.


Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Sweetheart by Chelsea Cain

So, um, ya...I already read the sequel to Heartsick. After feeling conflicted about reading a serial killer book, I certainly seem to have been eager to get my paws on the sequel. This will have SPOILERS. You've been warned.

It was good. Not as good as the first one, but still good. All the main players show up. A few new characters are introduced, but there isn't too much time spent developing them since they all die. The author must have figured why waste time developing them? In fact, she must have thought that about all her characters because I don't feel like I learned much new about any of them.

I was a little bummed that Susan got herself in an attempted murder situation again and I hope that isn't a feature of each book - Susan having to be saved from this week's killer. But on the upside, we got to witness more of Gretchen and Archie's relationship which is sick and twisted and completely fascinating. As a result, Archie becomes a little less sympathetic of a character and more of someone you want to slap upside the head. We do get some new information on how their relationship "went to the next level" if you will. I hope that Cain doles out a whole bunch more background information on Gretchen in the next installment. I'm sure everyone is wondering how she became the psychopath with the mostess.

I will say that my biggest complaint is that there are constant references to Gretchen's beauty. Her glowing skin, her this, her that...err...Bella syndrome anyone? Totally overdone.

All this being said, I read this book in 3 hours. Couldn't put it down. And I'm totally wanting to read the next one.

Things You Find in Your Collection

I was weeding our holiday books and I came across a rather lovely old book published about a small village in Sweden celebrating Christmas. Christmas in a Noisy Village by Astrid Lindgren (author best known for her Pippi Longstocking series). I flipped through the book and was rather surprised to find Star of David ornaments on the tree.

I did a quick search on the Internet and discovered that homemade straw ornaments are traditional, but couldn’t find out why they would have displayed Star of David ornaments. I did, however, discover that it is also a tradition to burn candles in the window and currently it is very popular to display a 7 candle candelabra. When I looked up pictures was struck by its similarity to a Menorah. I mean it isn't exact or anything, it's actually more like the reverse of a Menorah.

So what exactly is going on here? I would love to find out what the historical basis of this is. Is there some sort of appropriation of Jewish culture by Christians in Sweden? Was there a large hidden/underground Jewish population that remained so after the Holocaust ended (the book was originally published in 1963)?

I also found it interesting that a series of stamps based on Christmas in a Noisy Village was released in 2005. Strangely, the Star of David ornaments have been removed from the image. Perhaps the stamp artist said what the eff people and got rid of them?

I suppose that it is entirely possible the original illustrator was ignorant that the stars he/she was drawing were Stars of David. But speculating made my afternoon vastly more interesting than it would have been otherwise. Oh the things you find when you weed your collection!

[As an aside, I have a very strong memory of renting Pippi Longstocking VHS tapes from the department store that my dad worked at. I know that sounds unlikely, but I swear that they used to rent out movies...Of course, my mom claims no knowledge of this whatsoever and so now I really do wonder if it actually happened or if I somehow managed to completely manufacture these memories.]

Monday, January 5, 2009

Let it Snow by Green, Johnson, and Myracle

I've been wanting to read this for awhile, and thought what a happy coincidence, I should write about it since it showed up on Jenn H.'s favorites for the year.

I wasn't sure how the set up would be. If it would be in the alternating chapter style of Nick and Norah's or if it would be something different. It turned out that the stories were separate but related. Maureen's Johnson's story was first, introducing us to the time and place and several characters. John Green's was next introducing new characters that were tangentially related (although not all are tangentially Swedish) to the first story. Lauren Myracle's finished it up by introducing a third set of characters that pulled all three stories together (while also completing its own story).

There was no second guessing who wrote the stories. Even if the story's author had not been listed, the reader would have been able to pick the author out in a second. Johnson's story featured her trademark humor and Green his witty banter. I'm not as familiar with Myracle (despite being forever haunted by images of cats suckling), but her story was as enjoyable as the rest.

I think Johnson's story was my favorite (perhaps because Noah was such a tool it was fun to read about him? Although Green's JR solidly won my heart), but I did like all the stories and loved the way the characters entwined and came together. It was a sweet romantic book that featured a snowstorm, adversity, and Christmas miracles. All around a nice story that the girls will enjoy.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Jenn H.'s Year End Favorites

I kept track this year, and except for a few misses (always possible) I have read 244books this year. 125 of those were GNs, so depends on how you are counting....

Here are my favorites, pretty much in the order I read them:

1. Extras by Scott Westerfeld
2. Amulet: The Stonekeeper by Kazu Kibuishi
3. Jellaby by Kean Soo
4. Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson
5. Click by Youngran Lee
6. Generation Dead by Don Waters
7. Paper Towns by John Green
8. The Latent Powers of Dylan Fontaine by April Lurie
9. How to Be Bad by E. Lockhart, Sarah Mlynowski, and Lauren Myracle
10. Tekkon Kinkreet by Taiyo Matsumoto
11. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
12. Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
13. My Dead Girlfriend by Eric Wight
14. The Underneath by Kathi Appelt
15. Bliss by Lauren Myracle
16. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart
17. Inkdeath by Cornelia Funke
18. Cycler by Lauren McLaughlin
19. Rapunzel's Revenge by Shannon Hale
20. The Compound by S. A. Bodeen
21. Let It Snow by John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle

If I have to pick just 3 YA: Bliss, Cycler, and Let It Snow
3 GNs: Rapunzel's Revenge, Tekkon Kinkreet, and Click

What I didn't get to read, but want to: How to Ditch Your Fairy, Identical, Knife of Never Letting Go, Pretty Monsters, What I Saw and How I Lied, Unnamables, The Graveyard Book, Little Brother

Looks like it will be on next year's list: North of Beautiful and Tales from Outer Suburbia

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Next Stop, Sweet Valley

Happy New Year!

You will be pleased to know that I have finally gotten a hold of all of the newly reprinted Sweet Valley High books currently in bookstores. What does this mean? Yes! You guessed it! Soon, I shall post my latest takes on these revamped jewels of young adult literature!

I know you are all waiting at the edges of your seats, but please, show some decorum and don't make such a fuss. I mean, really.

Heartsick by Chelsea Cain

Honestly, I don't even know how I ended picking this one up. I must have read something good about it, because somehow, without me having any memory of it I requested it. Even though it is a crime thriller about serial killers and the fact that serial killers give me a major case of the heebie jeebies.

That said, however, I really liked it.

I thought the suspense was fabulous. I had no idea who the guilty party was until the author revealed it. And then it was obvious that the author had dropped hints and clues throughout the book leading to the inevitable conclusion.

I really liked the hero, who was a badly damaged (mentally and physically) detective with an addiction the size of Texas to a variety of prescription drugs. He wasn't an anti-hero by any means, but certainly wasn't a knight in shining armor either.

And I've already reserved the sequel. I can't wait.